5. IN A SOUTHERN CITY
On Saturday,January 13, 1894, Swamiji arrived in Memphis, invited by the members of the Nineteenth Century Club, some of whom had attended the Parliament of Religions and had been deeply impressed by “the Hindu Monk.” It would seem from what we so far know that many of Swamiji’s engagements were made independently of the lecture bureau, negotiations being made directly between him and various clubs or individuals. For instance, the Peripatetic Club invited Swamiji to speak in Minneapolis; Dr. H. O. Breeden arranged for his lectures in Des Moines; the Nineteenth Century Club brought him to Memphis; and, as will be seen in a following chapter, the Unity Club first sponsored him in Detroit. But since Swamiji probably signed a contract with the lecture bureau in November, that agency no doubt received a large share of the proceeds from every lecture given thereafter – whether arranged under its management or not.
In Memphis Swamiji was the guest of-Mr. Hu L. Brinkley, who lived in what was variously known as “Miss Moon’s establishment” or the “La Salette Academy.” Actually, although its name persisted in current use, the La Salette Academy was nonexistent, having been closed in 1891. Miss Virginia Moon fondly known in Memphis as “Miss Ginny,” turned the building in which the academy had been housed into a boarding-house for six or seven bachelor gentlemen. At the time of Swamiji’s visit Miss Moon was around fifty and one of Memphis* most extraordinary characters. She must have delighted Swamiji with her spirit of independence, for she was an emancipated woman par excellence, who had little use for men and who toted a pearl-handled revolver in a dainty, ruffled parasol. But Miss Ginny had a heart of gold. Her main, vocation was giving in charity
and, with her ever-present and persuasive parasol in hand, convincing the wealthy men of Memphis that they should do likewise. History has recorded her as “a one woman community fund.” It was in the large parlors of Miss Ginny Moon’s boarding-house that Swamiji received callers, held interviews and twice lectured.
On the evening of his arrival in Memphis a reception was held for him by Mrs.S. R. Shepherd. The next day, Sunday, January 14 he granted an interview to a local reporter. The interview was in certain respects unique, as will be seen in the following article from the Memphis Commercial of January 15:
SWAMI VIVEKANANDA HERE
The Hindu Monk Who Is to Lecture in This City
He Talks Entertainingly to a Reporter on Various Subjects, Among Them Suspended Animation and Other Man els Peculiar to His Home.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk, who will lecture this afternoon at 3 o’clock before the Nineteenth Century Club, and tomorrow night at the Auditorium, arrived in Memphis Saturday, and is the guest of Hu L. Brinkley at Miss Moon’s establishment, Third Street, near Poplar.
Swami Vivekananda is in some respects the most interesting visitor Memphis has ever had. Himself a Brahmin, he sacrificed his rank and joined the order of Hindu monks called Sanyasin. He was to Americans at least perhaps the most interesting figure in the World’s Parliament of Religions, held at Chicago in connection with the World’s Fair. This was not alone because he came as the representative of a religion of a far away land, but because of the excellent speeches which he made during the great religious gathering.
Yesterday afternoon Swami Vivekananda dined at Col. R. B. Snowden’s [at Annesdale] where he met Bishop Thomas F. Gailor. He had only a short time
returned from this visit when a Commercial reporter called upon him at Miss Moon’s, and was accorded an interview with him in the rooms of Gen, R. F. Patterson, where he was sitting at the time.
Vivekananda is very striking in his personality. Though quite dark of complexion, his intellectual forehead, large fine eyes and black hair, his easy, graceful manners and fine figure and carriage make him a very handsome man.
Asked by the reporter for his impressions of America, he said:
“I have a good impression of this country especially of the American women. I have especially remarked on the absence of poverty in America.”
The conversation afterward turned to the subject of religions. Swami Vivekananda expressed the opinion that the World’s Parliament of Religions had been beneficial in that it had done much toward broadening ideas.
“What,” asked the reporter, “is the generally accepted view held by those of your faith as to the fate after death of one holding the Christian religion?”
“We believe that if he is a good man he will be saved. Even an atheist, if he is a good man, we believe must be saved. That is our religion. We believe all religions are good, only those who hold them must not quarrel.”
Swami Vivekananda was questioned concerning the truthfulness of the marvelous stories of the performance of wonderful feats of conjuring, levitation, suspended animation, and«ihe like in India. Vivekananda said:
“We do not believe in miracles at all but that apparently strange things may be accomplished under the operation of natural laws. There is a vast amount of literature in India on these subjects, and the people there have made a study of these things.
“Thought reading and the foretelling of events are successfully practised by the Hathayogis.
“As to levitation, I have never ssen anyone overcome gravitation and rise by will into the air, but I have seen many who were trying to do so. They read books published on the subject and spend years trying to accomplish the feat. Some of them in their efforts nearly starve themselves, and become so thin that if one presses his finger upon their stomachs he can actually feel the spine.
“Some of these Hathayogis live to a great age.”
The subject of suspended animation was broached and the Hindu monk told the Commercial reporter that he himself had known a man who went into a sealed cave, which was then closed up with a trap door, and remained there for many years, without food. There was a decided stir of interest among those who heard this assertion. Vivekananda entertained not the slightest doubt of the genuineness of this case. He says that in the case of suspended animation growth is for the time arrested. He says the case of the man in India who was buried with a crop of barley raised over his grave and who was finally taken out still alive is perfectly well authenticated. He thinks the studies which enabled persons to accomplish that feat were suggested by the hibernating animals.
Vivekananda said that lie had never seen the feat which some writers have claimed has been accomplished in India, of throwing a rope into the air arul the thrower climbing up the rope and disappearing out of sight in the distant heights.
A lady present when the reporter was interviewing the monk said some one had asked her if he, Vive Kananda, could perform wonderful tricks, and if he had been buried alive as a part of his installation in the Brotherhood. The answer to both questions was a positive negative. “What have those things to do with religion?” he asked. “Do they make a man purer? The satan of your Bible is powerful, but differs from God in not being pure.”
Speaking of the sect of Hathayoga, Vivekananda
said there was one thing, whether a coincidence or not, connected with the initiation of their disciples, which was suggestive of the one passage in the life of Christ. They make their disciples live alone for just forty days.
Only the members and invited guests of the Nineteenth Century Club will hear Swami Vivekananda this afternoon; tomorrow night, when he appears at the Auditorium, the public will have an opportunity to see and hear this very interesting man and no less interesting talker. Vivekananda will likely go from here to Chicago. He does not yet know how long he will remain in America.
On the afternoon of Monday. January 15. Swami]i gave his first lecture in Memphis at the Nineteenth Century X3ub. What hisTubjecTwas we do not know, but we do know from an item in the Appeal-Avalanche of January 21 that “the address of Swami Vivekananda before the Nineteenth Century Club and the reception given after the lecture was one of the pleasant events of this eventful year in club calendar.’ A piano solo and a song “formed the musical program of the afternoon.” How many musical programs Swamiji must have heard while on tour! Few occasions were considered complete without at least two solos, rendered, as a rule, by accomplished young women.
The following reports which cover the first three days of Swamiji’s stay in Memphis and which give some idea of how his reputation had spread, appeared in the Appeal-Avalanche of January 14, 15, and 16 respectively. As will be seen, no matter how well known Swamiji became, the idea still persisted that he had been a Brahmin who btt&me a Hindu priest or monk:
COMING WEEK’S ATTRACTIONS
Memphis this morning has a distinguished visitor in the person of Swami Vivekananda, a Brahman monk of India, who is the guest of the Nineteenth Century Club. His culture, his eloquence, and his fascinating personality has given this country a new idea of Hindoo civilisation. He is an interesting figure*; his fine, intelligent, mobile face in its setting of yellows and his deep, musical voice prepossessing one at once in his favour. So it is not strange that he has been taken up by the literary dubs, and has lectured and preached in many American churches. He speaks without notes, presenting his facts and his conclusions with the greatest art, the most convincing sincerity, and rising at times to a rich, inspiring eloquence. “Hinduism” will be his subject next Tuesday evening at 8 o’clock at the Auditorium.
January 15, 1894
“One of the giants of the platform,” “a model representative of his race,” “a sensation of the World’s Fair parliament,” “an orator by divine right.” All this and more is true of Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk, who is in the city, a guest of the Nineteenth Century Club. Several members of the club heard Vivekananda during the recent parliament of religions, and were so charmed with his eloquence, his earnestness, his culture, that they determined to have him visit Memphis, and to this end have been in correspondence with him since the adjournment of the parliament. On tomorrow evening at 8 o’clock in the Auditorium an opportunity will be given the people of Memphis to see and hear this earnest, eloquent Brahman tell of the religions, manners, and customs of his people.
January 16, 1894 THE HINDOO MONK
The Eloquent Lecturer From the Orient Will Be Heard Tonight
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, who is to lecture at the Auditorium tonight, is one of the most eloquent men who has ever appeared on the religious or lecture platform in this country. His matchless oratory, deep penetration into things occult, his cleverness in debate, and great earnestness captured the closest attention of the world’s thinking men at the World’s Fair Parliament of Religion, and the admiration of thousands of people who have since heard him during his lecture tour through many of the states of the Union.
In conversation he is a most pleasant gentleman ; his choice of words are the gems of the English language, and his general bearing ranks him with the most cultured people of Western etiquette and custom. As a companion he is a most charming man, and as a conversationalist he is, perhaps, not surpassed in the drawingrooms of any city in the Western World. He speaks English not only distinctly, but fluently, and his ideas, as new as sparkling, drop from his tongue in a perfectly bewildering overflow of ornamental language.
Swami Vivekananda, by his inherited religion or early teachings, grew up a Brahmin, but becoming converted to the Hindoo religion he sacrificed his rank and became a Hindoo priest, or as known in the country of oriental ideality, a sanyasin. He had always been a close student of the wonderful and mysterious works of nature as drawn from God’s high conception, and with years spent as both a student and teacher in the higher colleges of that eastern country, he acquired a knowledge that has given him a worldwide reputation as one of the most thoughtful scholars of the age.
His wonderful first address before the members of the World’s Fair Parliament stamped him at once as a leader in that great body of religious thinkers. During the session he was frequently heard in defence of his religion, and some of the most beautiful and philosophical gems that grace the English language rolled from his lips there in picturing the higher duties that man owed to man and to his Creator. He is an artist in thought, an idealist in belief and a dramatist on the platform.
IN A SOUTHERN CITY
Since his arrival in Memphis he has been guest of Mr. Hu L. Brinkley, where he has received calls day and evening from many in Memphis who desired to pay their respects to him. He is also an informal guest at the Tennessee Club and was a guest at the reception given by Mrs. S. R. Shepherd, Saturday evening. Col.
R. B. Snowden gave a dinner at his home at Annesdale in honor of the distinguished visitor on Sunday, where he met Assistant Bishop Thomas F. Gailor, Rev. Dr. George Patterson and a number of other clergymen.
Yesterday afternoon he lectured before a large and fashionable audience composed of the members of the Nineteenth Century Club in the rooms of the club in the Randolph Building. Tonight he will be heard at the Auditorium on “Hindooism.”
By the time Swamiji reached Memphis his name seems to have been established as Vivekananda. This division of Vive-kananda into a first and last name was probably an inspiration on the part of the lecture bureau. It was easier to remember this way, less liable to distortion in spelling and pronunciation and, in the jargon of modem publicity agents, “better box office.” In most cases, particularly in advance publicity, the “Vive” was dropped altogether and Swamiji was heralded in the papers as “Kananda” in letters an inch high.
Swamiji’s lecture on Hinduism, as has been seen in the above reports, was delivered on Tuesday evening, January., 16,_ at the Auditorium. The Memphis Commercial of January 17 reported upon it as follows:
PLEA FOR TOLERANCE
Swami Vivekananda Instructs Christians on the Faith of the Hindus.
An audience of fair proportions gathered last night at the Auditorium to greet the celebrated Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, in his lecture on Hinduism.
He was introduced in a brief but informing address by Judge R. J. Morgan, who gave a sketch of the development of the great Aryan race, from which development have come the Europeans and the Hindus alike, so tracing a racial kinship between the people of America and the speaker who was to address them.
The eminent Oriental was received with liberal applause, and heard with attentive interest throughout. He is a man of fine physical presence, with regular bronze features and form of fine proportions. He wore a robe of pink silk, fastened at the waist with a black sash, black trousers and about his head was gracefully draped a turban of yellow India silk. His delivery is very good, his use of English being perfect as regards choice of words and correctness of grammar and construction. The only inaccuracy of pronunciation is in the accenting of words at times upon a wrong syllable. Attentive listeners, however, probably lost few words, and their attention was well rewarded by an address full of original thought, information and broad wisdom. The address might fitly be called a plea for universal tolerance, illustrated by remarks concerning the religion of India. This spirit, he contended, the spirit of tolerance and love, is the central inspiration of all religions which are worthy, and this, he thinks, is the end to be secured by any form of faith.
His talk concerning Hinduism was not strictly circumstantial. His attempt was rather to give an
analysis of its spirit thgn a story of its legends or a picture of its forms. He dwelt upon only a few of the distinctive credal or ritual features of his faith, but these he explained most clearly and perspicuously. He gave a vivid account of the mystical features of Hinduism, out of which the so often misinterpreted theory of reincarnation has grown. He explained how his religion ignored the differentiations of time, J10W, just as all men believe in the present and the future of the soul, so the faith of Brahma believes in its past. He made it clear, too, how his faith dpes not believe in “original sin” but bases all effort and aspiration on the belief of the perfectibility of humanity. Improvement and purification, he contends, must be based upon hope. The development of man is a return to an original perfection. This perfection must come through the practice of holiness and love. Here he showed how his own people have practiced these qualities, how India has been a land of refuge for the oppressed, citing the instance of the welcome given by the Hindus to the Jews when Titus sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.
In a graphic way he told that the Hindus do not lay much stress upon forms. Sometimes every member of the family will differ in their adherence to sects, but all will worship God by worshiping the spirit of love which is His central attribute. The Hindus, he says, hold that there is good in all religions, that all religions are embodiments of man’s inspiration for holiness, and being such, all should be respected. He illustrated this by a citation from the Vedas, in which varied religions are symbolized as the differently formed vessels with which different men came to bring water from a spring. The forms of the vessels are many, but the water of truth is what all seek to fill their vessels with. God knows all forms of faith, he thinks, and will recognize his own name no matter what it is called, or what may be the fashion of the homage paid him.
The Hindus, he continued, worship the same God as the Christians. The Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, Siva is merely an embodiment of God the creator, the preserver and the destroyer. That the three are considered three instead of one is simply a corruption due to the fact that general humanity must have its ethics made tangible. So likewise the material images of Hindu gods are simply symbols of divine qualities.
He told, in explanation of the Hindu doctrine of incarnation, the story of Krishna, who was born by
immaculate conception and the story of whom greatly resembles the story of Jesus. The teaching of Krishna, he claims, is the doctrine of love for its own sake, and he expressed [it] by the words ‘If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of religion, the love of God is its end.”
His entire lecture cannot be sketched here, but it was a masterly appeal for brotherly love, and an eloquent defense of a beautiful faith. The conclusion was especially fine, when he acknowledged his readiness to accept Christ but must also bow to Krishna and to Buddha; and when, with a fine picture of the cruelty of civilization, he refused to hold Christ responsible for the crimes of progress.
On the following evening, Wednesday, January 17-Swamiji lectured in the rooms of the Woman’s Council on “The Destiny of Man.” The lecture was reviewed as follows by the Appeal-Avalanche of January 18:
THE DESTINY OF MAN DISCUSSED
Lecture by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo Monk.
The Eloquent Orator Talks Entertainingly of Man and His Destiny – Synopsis of His Lecture Last Night
in the Rooms of the Woman’s Council
“The Destiny of Man” was the subject of a lecture by Swami Vivekananda last night at the Woman’s Council-room, corner Second and Adams street.
The audience was moderately large, and was made up of the best literary and musical talent of the city, including some of the most distinguished members of the legal fraternity and financial institutions.
The speaker differs in one respect in particular from some American orators. He advances his ideas with as much deliberation as a professor of mathematics
demonstrates an example in algebra to his students. Kananda speaks with perfect faith in his own powers and ability to successfully hold his position against all argument. He advances no ideas, nor makes assertions that he does not follow up to a logical conclusion. Much of his lecture is something on the order of Ingersoirs philosophy. He does not believe in future punishment nor in God as Christians believe in HiJtn. He does not believe the mind is immortal, from the fact that it is dependent, and nothing can be immortal except it is independent of all things. He says: “God is not a king sitting away in one corner of the universe to deal out punishment or rewards according to a man’s deeds here on earth, and the time will come when man will know the truth, and stand up and say, ‘I am God,’ am life of His life. Why teach that God is far away when our real nature, our immortal principle is God?
“Be not deluded by your religion teaching original sin, for the same religion teaches original purity. When Adam fell he fell from purity. (Applause) Purity is our real nature, and to regain that is the object of all religion. All men are pure ; all men are good. Some objections can be raised to them, and you ask why some men are brutes? That man you call a brute is like the diamond in the dirt and dust – brush the dust off and it is a diamond, just as pure as if the dust had never been on it, and we must admit that every soul is a big diamond.
“Nothing is baser than calling our brother a sinner. A lioness once fell upon a flock of sheep and killed a lamb. A sheep found a very young lion and it followed her and she gave it suck, and it grew up with the sheep and learned to eat grass like a sheep. One day an old lion saw the sheep lion and tried to get it away from the sheep, but it ran away as he approached. The big lion waited till he caught the sheep lion alone, and he seized it and carried it to a clear pool of water, and said, ‘You are not a sheep, but a lion ; look at your picture in the water/ The sheep lion, seeing its picture reflected from the water, said, T am a lion and not a sheep/ Let us not think we are sheep, but be lions, and donvt bleat and eat grass like a sheep.
“For four months I have been in America. In Massachusetts I visited a reformatory prison. The jailer at that prison never knows for what crimes the prisoners are incarcerated. The mantle of charity is thrown around them. In another city there were three newspapers, edited by very learned men, trying to prove that severe punishment was a necessity, while one other paper contended that mercy was better than punishment. The editor of one paper proved by statistics that only 50 per cent of criminals who received severe punishment returned to honest lives, while 90 per cent of those who received light punishment returned to useful pursuits in life.
“Religion is not the outcome of the weakness of human nature ; religion is not here because we fear a tyrant; religion is love, unfolding, expanding, growing. Take the watch – within the little case is machinery and a spring. The spring, when wound up, tries to regain its natural state. You are like the spring in the watch, and it is not necessary that all watches have the same kind of a spring, and it is not necessary that we all have the same religion. And why should we quarrel? If we all had the same ideas the world would be dead. External motion we call action; internal motion is human thought. The stone falls to the earth. You say it is caused by the law ofjgravitation. The horse draws the cart and God draws the horse. That is the law of motion. Whirlpools show the strength of the current; stop the current and stagnation ensues. Motion is life. We must have unity and variety. The rose would smell as sweet by any other name, and it does not matter what your religion is called.
“Six blind men lived in a village. They could, not see the elephant, but they went out and felt of him. One put his hand on the elephant’s tail, one of them on
his side, one on his tongue [trunk], one on his ear. They began to describe the elephant. One said he was like a rope; one said he was like a great wall; one said he was like a boa constrictor, and another said he was like a fan. They finally came to blows and went to pummeling each other. A man who could see came along and inquired the trouble, and the blind men said they had seen the elephant and disagreed because one accused the other of lying. ‘Well said the man, ‘you have all lied; you are blind, and neither of you have seen it. That is what is the matter with our religion. We let the blind see the elephant. (Applause.)
“A monk of India said, ‘I would believe you if you were to say that I could press the sands of the desert and get oil, or that I could pluck the tooth from the mouth of the crocodile without being bitten, but I cannot believe you when you say a bigot can be changed/ You ask why is there so much variance in religions? The answer is this: The little streams that ripple down a
thousand mountain sides are destined to come at last to the mighty ocean. So with the different religions. They are destined at last to bring us to the bosom of God. For 1,900 years you have been trying to crush the Jews. Why could you not crush them? Echo answers: Ignorance and bigotry can never crush truth.”
The speaker continued in this strain of reasoning for nearly two hours, and concluded by saying: “Let us help, and not destroy”
At the behest of his already large following Swamiji delivered three more lectures in Memphis. The first two of these were held at La Salette Academy (Miss Moon’s boarding-house) whose parlors were no doubt large enough to hold a sizable audience. On Friday evening the subject was “Reincarnation.” It was reported upon by the Appeal-Avalanche of January 20 as follows:
Vivekananda ON REINCARNATION
The Hindoo Monk Discourses on Metempsychosis.
An Appreciative Audience Is Enlightened on the Subject of the Transmigration of the Soul by the Learned Theosophist from the East.
Swami Vivekananda, the beturbaned and yellow-robed monk, lectured again last night to a fair-sized and appreciative audience at the La Salette Academy on Third street.
Kananda’s popularity has increased wonderfully since his arrival in this city, and especially is this noticeable among the ladies. To them he is like the latest sensation, they never grow tired of talking about him. Two-thirds of the audience last night were feminine and throughout the discourse they were most attentive, taking in every word that dropped from the speaker’s lips as if they were pearls being given up by the bottomless seas.
The subject was “Transmigration of the Soul, or metempsychosis.” Possibly Vivekananda never appeared to greater advantage than in this role, so to speak. Metempsychosis one of the most widely-accepted beliefs among the Eastern races, and one that they are ever ready to defend, at home or abroad. As Kananda said:
“Many of you do not know that it is one of the oldest religious doctrines of all the old religions. It was known among the Pharisees, among the Jews, among the first fathers of the Christian Church, and wa$ a common belief among the Arabs. And it lingers still with the Hindoos and the Buddhists.
“This state of things went on until the days of science, which is merely a contemplation of energies. Now, you Western people believe this doctrine to be subversive of morality. In order to have a full survey of the argument, its logical and metaphysical features, we will have to go over all the ground. All of us believe in a moral governor of this universe ; yet nature reveals to us instead of justice, injustice. One man is bom under the best of circumstances. Throughout his entire life circumstances come ready made to his hands – all conducive to happiness and a higher order of things. Another is born, and at every point his life is at variance with that of his neighbor. He dies in depravity, exiled from society. Why so much impartiality [partiality] in the distribution of happiness?
“The theory of metempsychosis reconciles this disharmonious chord in your common beliefs. Instead of making us immoral, this theory gives us the idea of justice. Some of you say: ‘It is God’s will.’ This is no
answer. It is unscientific. Everything has a cause. The sole cause and whole theory of causation being left with God, makes him a most immoral creature. But materialism is as much illogical as the other. So far as we go, perception [causation?] involves all things. Therefore, this doctrine of the transmigration of the soul is necessary on these grounds. Here we are all bom. Is this the first creation? Is creation something coming out of nothing? Analysed completely, this sentence is nonsense. It is not creation, but manifestation.
“A something cannot be the effect of a cause that is not. If I put my finger in the fire the burn is a simultaneous effect, and I know that the cause of the burn was the action of my placing my finger in contact with the fire. And as in the case of nature, there never was a time when nature did not exist, because the cause has always existed. But for argument sake, admit that there was a time when there was no existence. Where was ail this mass of matter? To create something new would be the introduction of so much more energy into the
universe. This is impossible. Old things can be re-created, but there can be no addition to the universe.
“No mathematical demonstration could be made that would have this theory of metempsychosis. According to logic, hypothesis and theory must not be believed.
But my contention is that no better hypothesis has been forwarded by the human intellect to explain the phenomena of life.
“I met with a peculiar incident while on a train leaving the city of Minneapolis. There was a cowboy on the train. He was a rough sort of a fellow and a Presbyterian of the blue nose type. He walked up and asked me where I was from. I told him India. ‘What are you?’ he said. ‘Hindoo/ I replied. ‘Then you must go to hell/ he remarked. I told him of this theory, and after [my] explaining it he said he had always believed in it, because he said that one day when he was chopping a log his little sister came out in his clothes and said that she used to be a man. That is why he believed in the transmigration of souls. The whole basis of the theory is this: If a man’s actions be good, he
must be a higher being, and vice versa.
“There is another beauty in this theory – the moral motor [motive] it supplies. What is done is done. It says, ‘Ah, that it were done better/ Do not put your finger in the fire again. Every moment is a new chance.”
Vivekananda spoke in this strain for some time, and he was frequently applauded.
Swami Vivekananda will lecture again this afternoon at 4 o’clock at La Salette Academy on “The Manners and Customs of India.”
The lecture on “The Manners and Customs of India” was poorly attended owing to the inclement weather. It was perhaps the smallness of the gathering that gave this lecture a somewhat informal aspect. As will be seen in the following report from the Appeal-Avalanche of January 21, the ladies kept interrupting Swamiji to ask questions both relevant and irrelevant:
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS-IN INDIA
Lecture by Swami Vivekananda, The Hindoo Monk.
He Beautifully Describes the Traditions of His Native Country – A Cordial Welcome Has Been Extended the High Priest from India – He Lectures Again Tonight.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, delivered a lecture at La Salette Academy yesterday afternoon. Owing to the pouring rain, a very small audience was present.
The subject discussed was “Manners and – Customs
in India.” Vivekananda is advancing theories of religious thought which find ready lodgment in the minds of some of the most advanced thinkers of this as well as other cities of America.
His theory is fatal to the orthodox belief, as taught by the Christian teachers. It has been the supreme effort of Christian America to enlighten the beclouded minds of heathen India, but it seems that the oriental splendor of Kananda’s religion has eclipsed the beauty of the old-time Christianity, as taught by our parents, and will find a rich field in which to thrive in the minds of some of the better educated of America.
This is a day of “fads,” and Kananda seems to be filling a “long felt want.” He is, perhaps, one of the most learned men of his country, and possesses a wonderful amount of personal magnetism, and his hearers are charmed by his eloquence. While he is liberal in his views, he sees very little to admire in the orthodox Christianity. Kananda has received more marked attention in Memphis than almost any lecturer or minister that has ever visited the city.
If a missionary to India was as cordially received as the Hindoo monk is here the work of spreading the gospel of Christ in heathen lands would be well advanced. His lecture yesterday afternoon was an
interesting one from a historic point of view. He is thoroughly familiar with the history and traditions of his native country, from very ancient history up to the present, and can describe the various places and objects of interest there with grace and ease.
During his lecture he was frequently interrupted by questions propounded by the ladies in the audience, and he answered all queries without the least hesitancy, except when one of the ladies asked a question with the purpose of drawing him out into a religious discussion. He refused to be led from the original subject of his discourse and informed the interrogator that at another time he would give his views on the “transmigration of the soul,” etc.
In the course of his remarks he said that his grandfather was married when he was 3 years old and his father married at 18, but he had never married at all. A monk is not forbidden to marry, but if he takes a wife she becomes a monk with the same powers and privileges and occupies the same social position as her husband.
In answer to a question, he said there were no divorces in India for any cause, but if, after 14 years of married life, there were no children in the family, the husband was allowed to marry another with the wife’s consent, but if she objected he could not marry again. His description of the ancient mausoleums and temples were beautiful beyond comparison, and goes to show that the ancients possessed scientific knowledge far superior to the most expert artisans of the present day.
Swami Vivi Kananda will appear at the Y.M.H.A. Hall to-night the last time in this city. He is under contract with the “Slayton Lyceum Bureau,” of Chicago, to fill a three-years’ engagement in this country. He will leave to-morrow for Chicago, where he has an engagement for the night of the 25th.
It is quite unlikely that Swamiji made the remark attributed to him in the third paragraph above regarding the marriage of monks. This must have been an aberration on the part of the reporter, for, as is well known, if a sannyasin takes a wife be is considered by Hindu society to be a fallen person and beyond the pale. Probably what Swamiji said was that if a married man should renounce the world, then his wife would do likewise. Or perhaps he said “priest.*’
Swamiji’s “theory fatal to the orthodox belief” was too much for one Reverend G. T. Sullivan whose Sunday sermon was given in the Appeal-Avalanche of January 22. The Reverend Mr. Sullivan took as his theme a Biblical text often cited at the Parliament of Religions: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel
of Christ.” The sermon need not be quoted here. Suffice it to say that the Reverend Mr. Sullivan characterized the Parliament of Religions as “the greatest fraud of the Nineteenth Century.” It might also be mentioned that in the course of his lecture he displayed a confusion typical in Western thought regarding the doctrine of reincarnation. Swamiji had just delivered a lecture on this subject and often took pains to set the matter straight, for it was, and perhaps still is, a stumbling block to the West’s understanding of Eastern religions. Out of his fund of current misinformation, the Reverend Mr. Sullivan explained:
Another feature of the world’s [non-Christian] religion is, it does not recognize the immortality of man. Transmigration of the soul is taught; that is, our soul, they say, will go out into some animal, perhaps, or some other creature. … I would rather never to have lived to think my soul would go into an ox. I had rather not live at all than to die and be annihilated. Better be cast into the sea with a millstone about your neck than to be a materialist.
On Sunday, January 21, Swamiji held a discussion in the parlors of La Sallette Academy. The reporter from the Appeal-Avalanche was evidently deeply appreciative of the Hindu monk, and fortunately he was present at this meeting, for he gives us one of our rare and invaluable close-range word pictures of him:
A TALK WITH THE HINDOO MONK.
He Thinks Americans Are Materialists and Tells Why
His Mission to This Country Is Not to Gain Converts to His Faith, But to Raise Funds for a College in His Native Land – His Religion.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, whose lectures have attracted marked attention during his sojourn here, has been misunderstood, insomuch as the object of his visit to America is concerned. He is here not to propagate the doctrines of any religion of India and make converts to the same, but to raise the money wherewith to establish a polytechnic institution in his native land that shall be the nucleus around which he hopes to build an educational system that shall tend to develop the minds of his people along lines of thought to which, owing chiefly to their religious beliefs, they have been strangers heretofore.
Kananda has no quarrel with the faith of the people of the Western world, as he calls Americans. While he sees much in their mode of life, their social and religious institutions, to disagree with, he does not criticise them unless called upon to do so. He is here rather to cull from American soil ideas and natural aid that will advance his people. As a conversationalist Kananda is very agreeable. Modest in his demeanor, he is inclined to be diffident until alRmsed by some query that affects his mission, his religion or his people. Then he is assertive, but never aggressive. Perhaps there is at times a tinge of irony, felt rather than seen, in his manner when contrasting the manners and customs of his people with those of the West, but being a gentleman by instinct, a scholar by training and a monk by choice he is always courteous and never impatient.
If there has been anything of the irascible in his
nature it would surely have been developed last evening when, for an hour or more, he was subjected to a crossfire of interrogatories that kept him ever on the alert and frequently on the defensive. The conversation was participated in by a number of those who have become interested in the work [monk] and his mission since he arrived in Memphis, among those present being a representative of the Appeal-Avalanche. Kananda has said much in behalf of his people and their religion and much concerning Americans and the doctrines of Christianity, and it was to ascertain something of the ground upon which he bases his claims for the Hindoo belief and to settle points not made clear by his discourses that the monk was induced to discuss certain interesting topics.
Kananda is diplomatic to a marked degree. While ever ready to reply to any question propounded him, he is, nevertheless, capable of amusing those that he does not see fit to enter into conversation in detail in a way that precludes further discussion, while not committing himself or offending his interrogator. He is remarkably well versed upon religious, scientific and metaphysical literature, not only of his own country but of the world as well, and is capable, by reason of his versatility, of maintaining himself in any position in which circumstances may cast his lot. There is throughout his bearing and conversation a certain child-like simplicity of manner that enlists one’s sympathy, and convinces one of the sincerity of the man’s utterances before he begins to speak.
According to Kananda, the spiritual life ought to be developed at any cost, and it is to the attainment of the spiritual rather than the material that his religion tends.
“I am a monk,” he said, as he sat in the parlors of La Sallette Academy, which is his home while in Memphis, “and not a priest. When at home I travel from place to place, teaching the people of the villages and towns through which I pass. I am dependent upon
them for my sustenance, as I am not allowed to touch money.
“I was born,” he continued, in answer to a question, “in Bengal and became a monk and a celibate from choice. At my birth my father had a horoscope taken of my life, but would never tell me what it was. Some years ago when I visited my home, my father having died, I came across the chart among some papers in my mother’s possession and saw from it that I was destined to become a wanderer on the face of the earth.”
There was a touch of pathos in the speaker’s voice and a murmur of sympathy ran around the group of listeners. Kananda knocked the ashes from his cigar and was silent for a space.
Presently some cue asked:
“If your religion is all that you claim it is, if it is the only true faith, how is it that your people are not more advanced in civilization than they are? Why has it not elevated them among the nations of the world?” “Because that is not the sphere of any religion,” replied the Hindoo gravely. “My people are the most moral in the world, or quite as much as any other race. They are more considerate of their fellow man’s rights, and even those of dumb animals, but they are not materialists. No religion has ever advanced the thought or inspiration of a nation or people. In fact, no great achievement has ever been attained in the history of the world that religion has not retarded. Your boasted Christianity has not proven an exception in this respect. Your Darwins, your Mills, your Humes, have never received the endorsement of your prelates. Why, then, criticize my religion on this account?”
“I would not give a fig for a faith that does not tend to elevate mankind’s lot on earth as well as his spiritual condition,” said one of the group, “and therein I am not prepared to admit the correctness of your statements. Christianity has founded colleges, hospitals and raised the degenerate. It has elevated the downcast and helped its followers to live.”
“You are right there to a certain extent, replied the monk calmly, “and yet it is not shown that these things are directly the result of your Christianity. There are many causes operating in the West to produce these results.
“Religious thought should be directed to developing man’s spiritual side. Science, art, learning and metaphysical research all have their proper functions in life, but if you seek to blend them, you destroy their individual characteristics until, in time, you eliminate the spiritual, for instance, from the religious altogether. You Americans worship what? The dollar. In the mad rush for gold, you forget the spiritual until you have become a nation of materialists. Even your preachers and churches are tainted with the all-pervading desire. Show me one in the history of your people, who has led the spiritual lives that those whom I can name at home have done. Where are those who, when death comes, could say, ‘O Brother Death, I welcome thee.’ Your religion helps you to build Ferris wheels and Eiffel towers, but does it aid you in the development of your inner lives?”
The monk spoke earnestly, and his voice, rich and well modulated, came through the dusk that pervaded the apartment, half-sadly, ha If-accusingly. There was something of the weird in the comments of this stranger from a land whose history dates Back6,000 years upon the civilization of the Nineteenth Century America.
“But, in pursuing the spiritual, you lose sight of the demands of the present,” said some one. “Your doctrine does not help men to live.”
“It helps them to die,” was the answer.
“We are sure of the present.”
“You are sure of nothing.”
“The aim of the ideal religion should be to help one to live and to prepare one to die at the same time.” ”Exactly,” said the Hindoo, quickly, “and it is that which we are seeking to attain. I believe that the Hindoo faith has developed the spiritual in its devotees
at the expense ofthe material, and I think that in the Western world the contrary is true. By uniting the materialism of the West with the spiritualism of the East I believe much can be accomplished. It may be that in the attempt the Hindoo faith will lose much of its individuality.”
“Would not the entire social system of India have to be revolutionized to do what you hope to do?”
“Yes, probably, still the religion would remain unimpaired.”
The conversation here turned upon the form of worship of the Hindoos, and Kananda gave some interesting information on this subject. There are agnostics and atheists in India as well as elsewhere. “Realization” is the one thing essential in the lives of the followers of Brahma. Faith is not necessary. Theosophy is a subject with which Kananda is not versed, nor is it a part of his creed unless he chooses to make it so. It is more of a separate study. Kananda never met Mine. Blavatsky, but has met Col. Olcott, of the American Theosophical Society. He is also acquainted with Annie Bcsant. Speaking of the “fakirs” of India, the famous jugglers or musicians [magicians], whose feats have made for them a world-wide reputation, Kananda told of a few episodes that had come within his observation and which almost surpass belief.
“Five months ago,” he said, when questioned on this subject, “or just one month before I left India to* come to this country, I happened in company in a caravan, or party of 25, ttTsojoum for a space in a city in the interior. While there we learned of the marvelous work of one of these itinerant magicians and had him brought before us. He told us he would produce for us any article we desired. We stripped him, at his request, until he was quite naked and placed him in the corner of the room. I threw my traveling blanket about him and then we called upon him to do as he* had promised. He asked what we should like, and I asked for a bunch of California grapes, and straightway the
fellow brought them forth from under his blanket. Oranges and other fruit were produced, and finally great dishes of steaming rice”
Continuing, the monk said he believed in the existence of a “sixth sense” and in telepathy. He offered no explanation of the feats of the fakirs, merely saying that they were very wonderful. The subject of idols came up and the monk said that idols formed a part of his religion insomuch as the symbol is concerned.
“What do you worship?” said the monk, “What is your idea of God?”
“The spirit,” said a lady quietly.
“What is the spirit? Do you Protestants worship the words of the Bible or something beyond? We worship the God through the idol”
“That is, you attain the subjective through the objective” said a gentleman who had listened attentively to the words of the stranger.
“Yes, that is it” said the monk, gratefully.
Vivekananda discussed further in the same strain until the call terminated as the hour for the Hindoo’s lecture approached.
Vivekananda goes to Chicago today.
That night Swamiji gave his last and, according to the Appeal-Avalanche of January 22, his most stirring talk. This farewell lecture was announced in the Appeal-Avalanche of January 21 as follows:
Tonight Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, will lecture at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Hall on “Comparative Theology.” Among the literary and thinking people generally of Memphis, he has attracted a great deal of attention. He possesses a keen mind, his ideas are broad and philosophic, and he reasons with a logic that is almost convincing. Altogether, he is a man of strong intellect, and his lectures are very instructive, especially to the student of religion and its more intimate relation to civilization and mankind.
An announcement appeared also in the Memphis Commercial of January 21:
HE’LL SPEAK TO ALL CLASSES
Swami Vivekananda Will Lecture on “Comparative Theology.”
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, will deliver a lecture tonight at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association hall. His subject will be “Comparative Theology.”
This lecture will not be in the interest of any institutions, but has been arranged by Col Hu Brinkley and some other gentlemen who, having heard the oriental orator and conversed with him, have been so impressed with his remarkable learning and talents that they desire all the people to have an opportunity to hear him. Swami Vivekananda has been entertained in a public and private way by the citizens and has created a profound sensation in all cultured circles. His learning embraces such a wide range of subjects and his knowledge is so thorough that even specialists in the various sciences, theology, art and literature, learn from his utterances and absorb from his presence. The topic he has chosen for his oration tonight is one that he can treat with masterly ability and in a manner peculiarly his own. The conditions of the arrangements are such that the man would secure a large audience of all classes of people, as he no doubt will. The lecture will occur at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association hall, and will begin at 8 o’clock.
It is interesting to note that although Swamiji was attempting to earn money by lecturing, it was evidently impossible for him not to contribute most of what he earned to seme needy cause. Not only in Memphis,, but in other towns, notably Boston, we see him lecturing for the benefit of various local charities. To judge from the report of “Comparative Theology” which appeared in the Appeal-Avalanche of January 22, that lecture was the only one delivered in Memphis the proceeds of which Swamiji did not give away (perhaps to one or another of Miss Moon’s favorite charities). The article reads as follows:
GAVE HIS FAREWELL LECTURE
Swami Vivekananda Makes the Grandest Effort of His Life.
‘Comparative Theology” Was the Subject, and He Handled It in a Masterful Manner. The Discourse Was Interspersed With Eloquence and Logic.
“Comparative Theology” was the subject of a discourse last night by Swami Vivekananda at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association Hall. It was the blue-ribbon lecture of the series, and no doubt increased the general admiration the people of this city entertain for the learned gentleman.
Heretofore Vivekananda has lectured for the benefit of one charity-worthy object or another, and it can be safely said that he has rendered them material aid. Last night, however, he lectured for his own benefit. The lecture was planned and sustained by Mr. Hu L. Brinkley, one of Vivekananda’s warmest friends and most ardent admirers. In the neighbourhood of two hundred gathered at the hall last night to hear the eminent Easterner for the last time in this city.
The first question the speaker asserted in connection with the subject was: “Can there be such a distinction between religions as their creeds would imply?”
He asserted that no differences existed now, and he retraced the line of progress made by all religions and brought it Backto the present day. He showed that such variance of opinion must of necessity have existed with primitive man in regard to the idea of God, butthat as the world advanced step by step in a moral and intellectual way, the distinctions became more and more indistinct, until finally it had faded away entirely, and now there was one all-prevalent doctrine – -that of an absolute existence.
“No savage,” said the speaker, “can be found who does not believe in some kind of a god.
“Modern science does not say whether it looks upon this as a revelation or not. Love among savage nations is not very strong. They live in terror. To their superstitious imaginations is pictured some malignant spirit, before the thought of which they quake in fear and terror. Whatever he likes he thinks will please the evil spirit. What will pacify him he thinks will appease the wrath of the spirit. To this end he labors ever against his fellow-savage.”
The speaker went on to show by historical facts that the savage man went from ancestral worship to the worship of elephants, and later, to gods, such as the God of Thunder and Storms. Then the religion of the world was polytheism. “The beauty of the sunrise, the grandeur of the sunset, the mystifying appearance of the star-bedecked skies and the weirdness of thunder and lightning impressed primitive man with a force that he could not explain, and suggested the idea of a higher and more powerful being controlling the infinities that flocked before his gaze,” said Vivekananda.
Then came another period – the period of monotheism. All the gods disappeared and blended into one, the God of Gods, the ruler of the universe. Then the speaker traced the Aryan race up to that period, where they said: “We live and move in God. He is motion.”
Then there came another period known to metaphysics as the “period of Pantheism.” This race rejected Polytheism and Monotheism, and the idea that God was the universe, and said “the soul of my soul is the only true existence. My nature is my existence and will expand to me.”
Vivekananda then took up Buddhism. He said that they neither asserted nor denied the existence of a God. Buddha would simply say, when his counsel was sought: “You see misery. Then try to lessen it.” To a Buddhist misery is ever present, and society measures the scope of his existence. Mohammedans, he said, believed in the Old Testament of the Hindoo [Hebrew] and the New Testament of the Christian. They do not like the Christians, for they say they are heretics and teach man-worship. Mohammed ever forbade his followers having a picture of himself.
“The next question that arises,” said he, “are these religions true or are some of them true and some of them false? They have all reached one conclusion, that of an absolute and infinite existence. Unity is the object of religion. The multiple of phenomena that is seen at every hand, is only the infinite variety of unity. An analysis of religion shows that man does not travel from fallacy to truth, but from a lower truth to a higher truth.
“A man brings in a coat to a lot of people. Some say the coat docs not fit them. Well, you get out; you can’t have a coat. Ask one Christian minister what is the matter with all the other sects that are opposed to his doctrines and dogmas, and he will answer: ‘Oh, they’re
not Christians.’ But we have better instruction than these. Our own natures, love and science – they teach us better. Like the eddies to a river, take them away and stagnation follows. Kill the difference in opinions, and it is the death of thought. Motion is necessity. Thought is the motion of the mind, and when that ceases death begins.
“If you put a simple molecule of air in the bottom of a glass of water it at once begins a struggle to join the infinite atmosphere above. So it is with the soul. It is struggling to regain its pure nature and to free itself from this material body. It wants to regain its own infinite expansion. This is everywhere the same. Among Christians, Buddhists, Mohammedans, agnostic or priest, the soul is struggling. A river flows a thousand
miles down the circuitous mountain side to where it joins the seas and a man is standing there to tell it to go Backand start anew and assume a more direct course! That man is a fool. You are a river that flows from the heights of Zion. I flow from the lofty peaks of the Himalayas. I don’t say to you, go Backand come down as I did, you’re wrong. That is more wrong than foolish. Stick to your beliefs. The truth is never lost. Books may perish, nations may go down in a crash, but the truth is preserved and is taken up by some man and handed Backto society, which proves a grand and continuous revelation of God.”
On Monday, January 22, after a little more than a week in Memphis, Swamifi left for Chicago. During this short time perhaps hundreds of people had come in contact with him and, knowingly or unknowingly, had received his blessings.
In trying to trace Swamiji’s footsteps through the Midwestern states of America one finds that at times the trail is clear; at other times it is altogether lost. But I think the reader will by now have received a general impression of the nature of his lecture tour, though perhaps not of the physical and mental suffering it cost him.
For months, the majority of which fell in the dead of a severe winter, Swamiji traveled almost incessantly, lecturing many times a week. As has been seen in the preceding chapters, he spent October and most of November in Chicago and nearby towns. Toward the end of November he traveled farther afield, presumably under the direction of the Slayton Lyceum Lecture Bureau, and commenced his long and arduous tour. The first cities on his itinerary were Madison, Minneapolis and Des Moines, all three of which he visited within the space of one short week. .
Although after this we lose trace of Swamiji for approximately six weeks we can infer from various sources something of
what this period was like. For instance, if the pace with which he began his tour in the last week of November was continued, as no doubt it was, then within the next six weeks he must have lectured – to make a conservative estimate – in at least fifteen towns. The far-flung location of these towns we can judge from his own words. “Necessity,” he wrote to Swami Ramakrishna-nanda, “makes me travel by rail to the borders of Canada one day, and the next day finds me lecturing in a southern state of America.” This information may not be literal as regards the time element, but it nonetheless characterizes the lecture tour. A little of the nature of this period can also be gathered from the “Memoirs of Sister Christine.” As has been mentioned in Chapter Three, she writes: “After the Parliament of Religions,
Swami Vivekananda was induced to place himself under the direction of Pond’s [?] Lecture Bureau and make a lecture tour of the United States.” She continues: “As is the custom, the
committee at each new place was offered the choice of several lectures, – ‘The Divinity of Man’ ‘Manners and Customs of India,’ ‘The Women of India’ ‘Our Heritage’. . . Invariably when the place was a mining town with no intellectual life whatever, the most abstruse subjects were selected. He told us the difficulty of speaking to an audience when he could see no ray of intelligence in response.”
Evidently the lecture bureau led Swamiji on a regular “barn-storming” tour, advertising him, as Romain Rolland tells us in “Prophets of the New India,” “as if he were a circus turn.” The picture which comes to mind of Swamiji making one-night stands week after week, enduring all the hardships of winter travel, keeping account of luggage and of money, meeting the blank and perhaps often stony faces of small-town audiences, being besieged, after having just delivered a lecture on “The Divinity of Man,” by questions concerning the feeding of Hindu infants to the Ganges crocodiles, is one which appalls the imagination.
His visits to the larger cities, as for instance, Memphis, Tennessee, where intellectual torpor was less ingrained and fundamentalism less pronounced, were no doubt a relief to him, but even there the pace was grueling and the demands made upon his energy unrelenting.
But lest I give the reader too gloomy a picture of Swamiji’s life, at this time I should like to present evidence that there were spots of light in this wearisome and lonely tour. The Middle West was, after all, not a totally unrelieved spiritual desert. Scattered here and there were people who, at least to some extent, understood and spoke his language, and to come across such rare souls naturally delighted his heart and lifted for a time the dead weight of his burden. A letter which Swamiji wrote from Detroit to a member of the Hale family and which has never before been published tells of one of these bright spots. Since he rarely wrote to India regarding the details of his American experiences, good or bad, this letter, I believe, is especially valuable, giving as it does so intimate and rare a glimpse into his itinerant life. Although chronologically the letter should be presented later on in the narrative, I do not think it is out of place here:
17th March ’94 Detroit
Got your package yesterday. Sorry that you send those stockings – I could have got some myself here. Glad that it shows your love. After all the satchel has become more than a thoroughly stuffed sausage. I do not know how to carry it along.
I have returned today to Mrs. Bagley’s as she was sorry that I would remain so long with Mr. Palmer. Of course in Palmer’s house there was real “good time” He is a real jovial heartwhole fellow, and likes “good time” a little too mqfcji and his “hot Scotch” But he is light along innocent and childlike in his simplicity.
He was very sorry that I came away but I could not help. Here is a beautiful young girl I saw her twice I do not remember her name. So Brainy so beautiful so spiritual so unworldly. Lord bless her – She came this morning with Mrs. M’cDuvel and talked so beautifully and deep and spiritually – that I was quite astounded. She knows everything about the yogis and is herself much advanced in Practice! !
Thy ways are beyond searching out” Lord bless her so innocent, holy and pure. This is the grandest recompence in my terribly toilsome, miserable life – the finding of holy happy faces like you from time to time.
The great Budhist prayer is “I bow down to all holy men on earth” I feel the real meaning of this prayer whenever I see a face upon which the finger of the Lord has written in unmistakeable letters “mine.” May you all be happy blessed – good and pure as you are for ever and ever. May your feet never touch the mud and dirt of this terrible world. May you live and pass away like flowers as you are born is the constant prayer of your brother
This letter has been preserved in an envelope addressed to “Miss Hariet McKindley” which may or may not be its original cover. To judge from the tone and contents of the letter itself, it seems to have been written to Isabelle McKindley, to whom Swamiji felt more close than he did to Harriett. However, at the present time we lack sufficient evidence to say conclusively that the letter and its envelope have somehow become mismatched. We can only say that to whomever Swamiji addressed the letter, it was no doubt meant to be shared by both the McKindley sisters and by their cousins as well; and it would perhaps not be amiss to tell at this point something about the Hale family, to which the McKindley girls belonged. The story of how Swamiji first met the Hales just before the opening of the Parliament of Religions has become a legend and need not be repeated here. It can be said, however, that the family almost at once became, as it were, his own. The Hales* home served as a kind of pivot for his Midwestern tour, an oasis to which he could return from time to time and there find the refreshing atmosphere of sheer goodness. A brief description of these “headquarters” can be found in a letter to Swami Ramakrishnananda. “I shall now tell you something of the Hales to whose address you direct my letters,” Swamiji wrote in September of 1894. “He and his* wife are an old couple, having two daughters, two nieces and a son. The son lives away from home and earns a living.
The daughters live at home. … All the four are young and not yet married.. .. They will probably live unmarried ; besides, they are now full of renunciation through contact with me and are busy with thoughts of Brahman !
“The two daughters are blondes, that is, have golden hair, while the two nieces are brunettes, that is, of dark hair. They know all sorts of occupations. The nieces are not so rich, they conduct a kindergarten school; but the daughters do not earn. . . . The girls call me brother, and I address Mrs. Hale as mother. All my things are at their place, and they look after them, wherever I may go.”
It should be added here for the sake of completeness that there was a married McKindley sister named Mary, who was living in Omaha, Nebraska, during the time Swamiji was in Chicago. Mary never met Swamiji, but her young daughter – then Louise Baker and now Mrs. Herbert E. Hyde – often saw him while visiting her great-aunt and -uncle, Mr. and Mrs. George Hale. “I remember Swami very well,” Mrs. Hyde has told me. “I remember his luminous eyes and his beautiful voice. He was so gorgeous, so handsome !”
Mrs. Hyde’s aunts, Harriett and Isabelle McKindley, were the daughters of Mr. Hale’s sister, who had married John Gilchrist McKindley. The two girls, whose mother had died when they were children, had come to live with their Uncle George and Aunt Belle Hale after the death of their father, who, during his last years, had lost a good deal of money, leaving his two unmarried daughters without means of support. The kindergarten which they conducted to earn a living was in its day a somewhat startling innovation. While charity kindergartens for children of destitute parents were comparatively well known, private kindergartens for the children of the rich were a new departure in the field of education. It was to this latter type of school that the McKindley girls gave their time. “It would be impossible to find women of more culture, refinement and intelligence than the little band of kindeigartners,” a contemporary newspaper writes of the McKindleys and their colleagues. “They are all well connected and known socially, which seems almost necessary, since they must gain the whole confidence of the mothers and come in such close and frequent
contact with them. They are earnest women who appreciate the importance of the work they are doing, and they are giving the very best of themselves to it.” “Miss [Isabelle] McKindley has a wonderfully comprehensive grasp of the work, and her attitude with the children is all that love and wisdom could suggest. She has a fine mind and is a brilliant conversationalist.”
Of all the four girls, Isabelle was perhaps the most sparkling. “It was said in years gone by,” Mrs. Hyde told me, “that no dinner party was complete without Isabelle McKindley. Her conversation was scintillating and she had a rare sense of humor. She was, moreover, very good looking. She was the dominant one of the McKindley sisters ; Harriett, more dryly intellectual and far less beautiful, adored her and bowed to her in everything.” A line drawing of Isabelle McKindley, which accompanied the newspaper article quoted above, shows her classical beauty and her resemblance to the Venus de Milo – a resemblance that was remarked upon by her family and that Swamiji verified for himself when he laier visited Europe. “By the by,” he wrote to Mary Hale from Darjeeling in 1897, “I saw the Venus of what do you call it – and you are right – Isabelle’s face is much like that statue. Of course her hands are better, for the statue has only stumps – that is to say, to our uneducated taste. Anyhow Isabelle is beautiful because she is like Venus and that Venus is beautiful because she is like Isabelle 1 ! On the whole I think she is much more beautiful than the statue, stumps notwithstanding.”
Mary Hale, in her own blond and statuesque way, was as beautiful as Isabelle and, perhaps, as talented. Although neither she nor her younger sister Harriett had to earn a living – Mr. Hale being successful in the steel business – they were both active in charitable work and busy, also, in the whirl of Chicago’s social life. Both girls were accomplished pianists and often played duets together – no doubt at times for Swamiji himself.
With his keen perception and concern for their future, the girls’ beloved “brother” once wrote a character sketch of them: “Harriett [Hale] will have a most blessed and happy life,” he predicted, “because she is not so imaginative and sentimental as to make’a fool of herself. She has enough of sentiment as to make life sweet, and enough common sense and gentleness as to soften the hard points in life which must come to everyone. So has Harriett McKindley in a still higher degree. She is just the girl to make the best of wives. . . . You, Mary, are like a mettlesome Arab – grand, splendid. You will make a splendid queen, physically, mentally. You will shine alongside of a dashing, bold, adventurous heroic husband; but, my dear sister, you will make one of the worst wives. You will take the life out of our easygoing, practical, plodding husbands of the everyday world. . . . As to sister Isabelle she has the same temperament as you; only this kindergarten has taught her a good lesson of patience and forbearance. Perhaps she will make a good wife.”
Although Swamiji loved all four “sisters” it was not the two gentle and sensible Harrietts whom he found the most companionable. Rather it was the two “mettlesome Arabs,” Isabelle Mckindley and her cousin, Mary Hale, who, it should be noted here, was not only queenly and spirited but also, according to her niece, “a very gentle and sweet person, warmhearted and serene.” Swamiji’s deep and abiding affection for Mary Hale is well known to readers of his published letters, but not so his affection for Isabelle McKindley, for his letters to the latter have been unknown. Fortunately, however, in the bundle of papers that Swami Vishwananda discovered and made available to us (Chapter Three) were many letters from Swamiji to Isabelle McKindley, most of which will be produced in the course of this narrative. Suffice it to say here that they show how fond he was of her, confiding to her his various thoughts, allowing her to attend to many small personal matters for him and feeling sure that in whatever mood he wrote – playful or serious – his letters would be read in a matching spirit.
Isabelle was perhaps as dear to Swamiji as was Mary Hale. But however that may be, all four Hale “sisters” must have been extraordinary young women, bom, as he writes, “like flowers,” “good and pure,” their faces “holy, happy,” for otherwise he could not have associated with them as intimately as he did throughout the years. “You are all so kind, the whole family, to me,” he wrote to Mary Hale from India in 1898, “I must have belonged to you in the past as we Hindus say.” And again in 1899, “It is curious, your family, Mother Church [Mrs. Hale] and her clergy, both monastic and secular, have made more impression, on me than any family I know of. Lord bless you ever and ever”
But to return to the Midwestern lecture tour, such “holy happy faces” as those of the Hales and McKindleys were few and far between, and on the whole we cannot but look upon the tour as an ordeal in which, as Sister Nivedita writes, using Swamiji’s own words, “he was ‘bowled along from place to place, being broken the while !”‘