9. THE EASTERN TOUR – I
“I am wearied of lecturing and all that nonsense” Swamiji wrote to the Hale sisters in the midst of the religious storm that was raging in Detroit as a result of his lectures and talks. “This mixing with hundreds of different varieties of the human animals male and female has disturbed me – I would tell you what is to my taste – I cannot write – I cannot speak – but I can think deep – and when I am heated can speak fire. But it should be to a select few – a very select few. And let them carry and sow my ideas broadcast if they will, not I. It is only just and a division of labor.” But despite Swamiji’s weariness, it was evidently the divine will that he himself should carry and scatter his ideas broadcast. There was no rest for him; indeed, the division of labor he wanted was not to be made during his lifetime.
Prophets do not make detailed plans; but when one views their life in retrospect one can see a broad plan unfolding itself. No sooner had Swamiji completed his mission in the Midwest with its climactic weeks in Detroit than he began to receive invitations from the East Coast. He had now broken with the lecture bureau and was free to accept or reject whatever lecturing engagements presented themselves ; he was also free to return to India, and considered doing so. “I do not care for lecturing any more,”
he wrote to Mary Hale on March 15. “It is too disgusting….
However, I will come Backto Chicago for a day or two at least before I go out of this country.” But despite Swamiji’s growing disgust with continuous lecturing he chose to remain in America.
We cannot know, in this connection, whether he received direct guidance from Sri Ramakrishna or whether he was prompted by his own profound knowledge and will, but in any case his guidance came from a divine source. Of this fact he
himself was always sure. “Through the Lord’s will,” he wrote to Swami Ramakrishnananda, “the desire for name and fame has not yet crept into my heart, and I dare say never will. I am an instrument, and He is the operator. Through this instrument He is rousing the religious instinct in thousands of hearts in this far-off country. Thousands of men and women here love and revere me. . . . ‘He makes the dumb eloquent and makes the lame cross mountains.’ I am amazed at His grace. Whatever town I visit, it is in an uproar. They have named me ‘the cyclonic Hindu.’ Remember, it is His will – I am a voice without a form.*’ Again he writes: “I am now making for the east. He knows where the bark will reach the shore.” Thus, moving as he was led, Swamiji made arrangements to leave the Middle West for New England.
But before telling of Swamiji’s life on the East Coast I must regress a moment to fill in a blank spot in the story of his Midwestern tour. It will be remembered that during his stay in Detroit he made two side trips, one on February 23 to Ada, Ohio, and the other on March 20 and 21 to Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan. The story of these trips was put off as being an interruption to the Detroit narrative, but I believe it should be told now.
When Swamiji visited Ada, Ohio, he was still under the direction of the lecture bureau, which no doubt chose that small town as a likely place for a lecture because, being the seat of the Ohio Northern University, a Methodist college founded in 1871, it was apt to provide a large audience. It did. The Ada Record, a weekly and the town’s only contemporary newspaper, gives an account of Swamiji’s lecture there. Although the eyes of the reporter were none too keen*Trtien looking at the speaker, one can nevertheless visualize through them the audience – an interested, alert and perhaps astonished group of people who bombarded Swamiji with all sorts of questions, most of which evinced a real interest in Hinduism.
The following announcement and article are from the Ada Record of February 21 and 28 respectively:
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk who is to
his country what Joseph Cook is to ours, will lecture in the opera house next Triday evening, February 23, on the “Divinity of Man”
The lecture on the Divinity of Man by Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk, drew a packed house at the Opera last Friday evening.
The Lecturer did not appear on the platform until 8:30. In personal appearance he is well built, smooth faced, about middle age. His jaws are broad, eyes small, bright and close together. His skin is very dark. His choice of words showed him to be an educated man and we have heard that he was a graduate of an American college.
He stated that the fundamental basis of all religions was belief in the soul which is the real man, and something beyond both mind and matter, and proceeded to demonstrate the proposition. The existence of things material are dependent on something else. The mind is mortal because changeable. Death is simply a change.
The soul uses the mind as an instrument and through it affects the body. The soul should be made conscious of its powers. The nature of man is pure and holy but it becomes clouded. In our religion every soul is trying to regain its own nature. The mass of our people believe in the individuality of the soul. we are forbidden to preach that ours is the only true religion. Continuing the speaker said: “I am a spirit and not
matter. The religion of the West hopes to again live with their body. Ours teaches there can not be such a state. We say freedom of the soul instead of salvation.” The lecture proper lasted but 30 minutes but the president of the lecture committee had announced that at the close of the lecture the speaker would answer any questions propounded him. He gave that opportunity and liberal use was made of the privilege. They came from preachers and professors, physicians and philos
ophers, from citizens and students, from saints and sinners, some were written but dozens arose in their seats and propounded their questions directly. The speaker responded to all – mark the word, please – in an affable manner and in several instances turned the laugh on the inquirer. They kept up the fusilade for nearly an hour; when the speaker begged to be excused from further labor there yet remained a large pile of unanswered questions. He was an artful dodger on many of the questions. From his answers we glean the following additional statements in regard to the Hindu belief and teachings: They believe in the incarnation of man.
One of their teachings is to the effect that their God Krishna was born of a viigin about 5000 years ago in the North of India. The story is very similar to the Biblical history of Christ, only their God was accidently killed. They believe in evolution and the transmigration of souls: i.e., our souls once inhabited some other living thing, a bird, fish or animal, and on our death will go into some other organism. In reply to the inquiry where these souls were before they came into this world he said they were in other worlds. The soul is the permanent basis of all existence. There was no time when there was no God, therefore no time when there was no creation. Buddists [sic] do not believe in a personal god ; I am no Buddist. Mohammed is not worshiped in the same sense as Christ. Mohammed believes in Christ but denies he is God. The earth was peopled by evolution and not special selection [creation]. God is the creator and nSthre the created. We do not have prayer save for the children and then only to improve the mind. Punishment for sin is comparatively immediate. Our actions are not of the soul and can therefore be impure. It is our spirit that becomes perfect and holy. There is no resting place for the soul. It has no material qualities. Man assumes the perfect state when he realizes he is a spirit. Religion is the manifestation of the soul nature. The deeper they see is what makes one .holier than another. Worship
is feeling the holiness of God. Our religion does not believe in missions and teaches that man should love God for love’s sake and his neighbor in spite of himself. The people of the West struggle too hard ; repose is a factor of civilization. We do not lay our infirmities to God. There is a tendency toward a union of religions.
Evidently the St. Louis rumor that Swamiji was a “graduate of an American college” (Chapter Four) had rapidly filtered through the Midwest. Although this news must have brought comfort to Ada’s Methodist university, the Ada Record was no doubt innocent in its repetition of what had been malicious in origin. It was innocent also in its comparison of Swamiji with Joseph Cook, one of America’s most popular fire-and-brimstone orators who, at the Parliament of Religions, had had no patience with the motto: “Tolerance, Fraternity.” The comparison was,
in a sense, a compliment, for it was no doubt made in regard to the Reverend Mr. Cook’s fame and influence, not to his religious convictions.
Swamiji’s engagements in Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan, in the last part of March were, like that in Ada, probably also made under the direction of the lecture bureau, for, as is seen from the following item that appeared in the Detroit Tribune of March 17, they must have been booked prior to March 15, which was around the time Swamiji broke his contract.
KANANDA AT BAY CITY
Bay City, Mich., Special, March 16 – Kananda, the Hindu monk, is booked for a lecture here next Tuesday evening. He could not secure any of the local churches and his lecture will be given at the old roller skating rink on Washington Avenue.
While it is conceivable that the Bay City clergy refused Swamiji a roof, “the old roller skating rink” sounds as though he were forced to lecture in a broken-down, abandoned, bamlike structure, and this may have been the impression that the Bay
City reporter meant td convey. Actually, however, the term had no such connotation, for the old roller-skating rink was currently the Bay City Opera House, where very likely all manner of performances – even operas – were held. There was nothing wrong with the old rink.
Although the Bay City clergy may have turned their backs on Swamiji and cautioned their flocks to do likewise, other sections of the population welcomed him with joy at having so distinguished a visitor. The papers heralded his coming with items such as: “All about Hindooism at the Opera house this evening,” and “Bay City people have a rare opportunity listening to an exponent on Paganism, Tuesday evening, March 20, at Washington Avenue rink.” The following more lengthy reports are taken from two Bay City newspapers: the Times Press and the Daily Tribune:
RAY CITY TIMES PRESS’ March 19, 1894
Reserve seats on sale for Vivekananda’s lecture at the Opera House tomorrow evening [Tuesday, March 20]. No extra charge.
The Hindoo monk has drawn larger audiences in Detroit than T. G. Ingersoll. His marvelous oratory, perfect English and depth of thought has attracted the attention of educated people throughout this country. He represented his people in the Parliament of Religions at Chicago.
BAY CITY DAILY TRIBUNE March 20. 1894
The learned Hindoo monk Swami Vivekananda who has created such a furor in the religious world,
will lecture at the Opera house this evening, and indications are that he will have a large and cultivated audience.
BAY CITY TIMES PRESS March 21, 1894
A HINDOO MONK
He gave an interesting lecture at the Opera House last evening. It is rarely that Bay City people have the opportunity of listening to a lecture similar to the one given last evening by Swami Vivekananda. The gentleman is a native of India, having been born at Calcutta about 30 years ago. The lower floor of the Opera house was about half Ailed when the speaker was introduced by Dr. C. T. Newkirk. During his discourse, he scored the people of this country for their worship of the almighty dollar. It is true that there is caste in India. There, a murderer can never reach the top. Here, if he gets a million dollars he is as good as any one. In India, if a man is a criminal once, he is degraded forever. One of the great factors in the Hindoo religion is its tolerance of other religions and beliefs. Missionaries are much more severe on the religions of India than upon that of other Oriental countries, because the Hindoos allow them to be, thus carrying out one of their cardinal beliefs, that of toleration. Kananda is a highly educated and polished gentleman. It is said that he was asked in Detroit if the Hindoos throw their children into the river. Whereupon, he replied that they do not, neither do they burn witches at the stake. The speaker lectures in Saginaw tonight.
BAY CITY DAILY TRIBUNE March 21, 1894
SWAMI Vivekananda THE NOTED HINDOO MONK IN BAY CITY YESTERDAY
Lecture at the Opera House on the Religion of His Country – His Opinion of America
Bay City had a distinguished visitor yesterday in the person of Swami Vivekananda, the much talked of Hindoo monk. He arrived at noon from Detroit where he has been the guest of Senator Palmer and proceeded immediately to the Fraser house. There he was seen by a reporter for The Tribune. Kananda is striking in appearance. He is nearly six feet tall, must weigh 180 pounds and is splendidly proportioned. He has a clear olive complexion and beautiful black hair and eyes and clean shaven face. His voice is soft and well modulated, and he speaks English remarkably well; in fact better than the majority of Americans. He is polite to a noticeable degree.
Kananda spoke entertainingly of his country and his impressions of this country. He came to America via the Pacific and will return via the Atlantic. “This is a great land,” he said, “but I wouldn’t like to live here. Americans think too much of money. They give it preference over everything else. Your people have much to learn. When yous. nation is as old as ours you will be wiser. I like Chicago very much and Detroit is a nice place.”
Asked how long he intended remaining in America, he replied: “I do not know. I am trying to see most
of your country. I go east next and will spend some time at Boston and New York. I have visited Boston but not to stay. When I have seen America I shall go to Europe. I am very anxious to visit Europe. I have never been there.”
Concerning himself the easterner said he was 30 years old. He was born at Calcutta and educated at a college in that city. His profession calls him to all parts of the country, and he is at all times the guest of the nation.
“India has a population of 285,000,000,” he said. “Of these about 65,000,000 are Mohammedans and most of the others Hindoos. There are only about 600,000 Christians in the country, and of these at least 250,000 are Catholics. Our people do not, as a rule, embrace Christianity ; they are satisfied with their own religion. Some go into Christianity for mercenary motives. They are free to do as they wish. We say let everybody have his own faith. We are a cunning nation. We dcTnot believe in bloodshed. There are wicked men in our country and they are in the majority, same as in your country. It is unreasonable to expect people to be angels.”
Vivekananda will lecture in Saginaw to-night.
Lecture Last Night
The lower floor of the opera house was comfortably filled when the lecture began last evening. Promptly at 8: 15 o’clock Swami Vivekananda made his appearance on the stage, dressed in his beautiful orienial costume. He was introduced in a few words by Dr. C. T. Newkirk.
The first part of the discourse consisted of an explanation of the different religions of India and of the theory of transmigration of souls. In connection with the latter, the speaker said it was on the same basis as the theory of conservation was to the scientist. This latter theory, he said, was first produced by a philosopher of his country. They did not believe in a creation. A creation implied making something out of nothing. That was impossible. There was no beginning of creation, just as there was no beginning of time. God and creation are as two lines – without end, without beginning, without [?] parallel. Their theory of creation is, “It is, was, and is to be.” They think all
punishment is but re-action. If we put our hand in the fire it is burned. That is the re-action of the action. The future condition of life is determined by the present condition. They do not believe God punishes. “You, in this land,” said the speaker, “praise the man who does not get angry and denounce the man who does become angry. And yet thousands of people throughout this country are every day accusing God of being angry. Everybody denounces Nero, who sat and played on his instrument while Rome was burning, and yet thousands of your people are accusing God of doing the same thing today.”
The Hindoos have no theory of redemption in their religion. Christ is only to show the way. Every man and woman is a divine being, but covered as though by a screen, which their religion is trying to remove. The removal of that Christians call salvation, they, freedom. God is the creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe.
The speaker then sought to vindicate the religions of his country. He said it had been proven that the entire system of the Roman Catholic Church had been taken from the books of Buddhism. The people of the west should learn one thing from India – toleration.
Among other subjects which he held up and overhauled were: The Christian missionaries, the zeal of the Presbyterian church and its non-toleration, the dollar
worshipping in this country, and the priests. The latter he said were in the business for the dollars there were in it, and wanted to Juaow how long they would stay in the church if they had to depend on getting their pay from God. After speaking briefly on the Caste system in India, our civilization in the south, our general knowledge of the mind, and various other topics the speaker concluded his remarks.
From Bay City Swamiji traveled to Saginaw, Michigan, where he lectured on Wednesday evening, March .21. Strangely and to the disgust of the editor of the Saginaw Evening News, he spoke to a small audience, this being one of the very few occasions on which he did not draw a record attendance.
There were two papers in Saginaw, the Courier-Herald and the Evening News. Both papers covered Swamiji’s visit, and although they were evidently appreciative of his lecture, both were under the impression that he was a Buddhist. This confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism was not confined to small towns but existed even in Chicago during the Parliament of Religions. It was perhaps attributable in part to Edwin Arnold’s widely read “The Light of Asia,” and in part to the general ignorance which prevailed in the West regarding all non-Christian religions. In any case, Swamiji was often called by the press “a Buddhist priest,” even after he had lectured. In the following articles the reader should, in most cases, substitute the words “Hinduism” and “Hindu” for “Buddhism” and “Buddhist.” There was also some confusion in Saginaw regarding the title of Swamiji’s lecture, which was perhaps due to the fact that he had intended to lecture on “Buddhism, the Religion of the Light of Asia,” but changed to “The Harmony of Religions.”
The following announcements and articles are from the Saginaw Evening News of March 19, 20, 21 and 22, respectively:
Kanandah, the celebrated Buddhist, who created such a marked impression at the parliament of religions at the World’s fair, lectures at the academy Wednesday evening. His topic will be “Buddhism.”
Swami Vivekananda, the Buddhist monk, who lectures at the academy tomorrow night on “Buddhism, the Religion of the Light of Asia,” has been the guest of Ex-Senator Palmer, president of the World’s Fair commission.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu Monk, arrived this afternoon from Bay City and is registered at the
Vincent. He dresses like a well-to-do American and speaks excellent English. He is slightly above the medium height, is stoutly built and his complexion resembles that of an Indian. In answer to a question by a NEWS representative, he said he learned English from privale tutors, and by contact with Europeans, who visited Hindustan. He further stated that his talk tonight would be explanatory of the religion of the Hindoo and to show that they are not heathen but believe in a future state.
RELIGIOUS HARMONY Kananda Talks about the Different Creeds Buddhism Teaches Perfection on Earth Charges that Christianity was Introduced by the Sword
Swami Vivekananda, the much talked of Hindoo monk, spoke to a small but deeply interested audience last evening at the academy of music on “The Harmony of Religions.” He was dressed in oriental costume and received an extremely cordial reception. Hon. Rowland Connor gracefully introduced the speaker, who devoted the first portion of his lecture to an explanation of the
different religions of India and of the theory of trans
migration of souls. The first invaders of India, the Aryans, did not try to exterminate the population of India as the Christians have done when they went into a new land, but the endeavor was made to elevate persons of brutish habits. The Hindoo is disgusted with those people of his own country who do not bathe and who eat dead animals. The Northern people of India have not tried to force their customs on the southerns, but the latter gradually adopted many ways of the former class. In southernmost portions of India there are a few persons who are Christians and who have been so for thousands [?] of years. The Spaniards came to Ceylon with Christianity. The Spaniards thought that their God commanded them to kill and murder and to tear down heathen temples.
If there were not different religions no one religion would survive. The Christian needs his seHish religion. The Hindoo needs his own creed. Those which were founded on a book still stand. Why could not the Christian convert the Jew? Why could they not make the Persians Christians? Why not so with the Mohammedans? Why cannot any impression be made upon China or Japan? The Buddhists, the first missionary religion, have double the number of converts of any other religion and they did not use the sword. The Mohammedans used the most force, and they number the least of the three great missionary religions. The Mohammedans have had their day. Every day you read of Christian nations acquiring land by bloodshed. What missionaries preach against this? Why should the most bloodthirsty nations exalt an alleged religion which is not the religion of Christ? The Jews and the Arabs were the fathers of Christianity, and how have they been persecuted by the Christians! The Christians have been weighed in the balance in India and found wanting.
The speaker did not wish to be unkind, but he wanted to show Christians how they looked in other eyes. The Missionaries who preach the burning pit are regarded with horror. The Mohammedans rolled wave after wave over India, waving the sword, and today where are they? The farthest that all religions can see is the existence of a spiritual entity. So no religion can teach beyond this point. In every religion there is the essential truth and non-essential casket in which this jewel lies. The believing in the Jewish book or the Hindoo book is non-essential. Circumstances change, the receptacle is different; but the central truth remains. The essentials being the same, the educated people of every community retain the essentials. The shell of the
oyster is not attractive, but the pearls are within. Before a small fraction of the world is converted Christianity will be divided into many creeds. That is the law of nature. Why take a single instrument from the great religious orchestras of the earth? Let the grand symphony go on. Be pure, urged the speaker, give up superstition and see the wonderful harmony of nature. Superstition gets the better of religion. All the religions are good since the essentials are the same. Each man should have the perfect exercise of his individuality but these individualities form a perfect whole. This marvelous condition is already in existence. Each creed has had something to add to the wonderful structure.
The speaker sought throughout to vindicate the religions of his country and said that it had been proven that the entire system of the Roman Catholic Church had been taken from the books of Buddhism. He dilated at some length on the high code of morality and purity of life that the ethics of Buddha taught but allowed that as far as the belief in the personality of God was concerned, agnosticism prevailed, the main thing being to follow out Buddha’s precepts which were, “Be good, be moral, be pgrfect.”
Several among the audience remarked at the conclusion of the lecture that they would have enjoyed listening to the speaker much longer, and expressed a desire to hear him again. He is only 30 years of age, a finished scholar and one who has the reputation of high intellectual attainments. He was born in Calcutta and educated at a college in that city. His voice is soft and well modulated and he speaks English remarkably well.
He leaves here for the east and will spend some time in Boston and New York. After he has looked over this country he will visit Europe, and when he reaches his own land will doubtless utilize the impressions he has received while girdling the globe.
The following editorial appeared in the same paper and on the same day as did the above article:
HE IS INSTRUCTIVE
And Hence the People Do not Care to Hear Him
What is the matter with the people of Saginaw, anyway? for several days it had been announced that Kananda, a Hindoo priest, was to deliver a lecture at the academy. He is one of the most distinguished men who has visited America in years. In Hindostan he occupies the same relation to religion and learning that Dr. Harper, Dr. Sumner, Dr. Elliot, and Dr. Angell do in America. He takes high rank among the learned men of the age, and came here to speak of one of the oldest faiths in the world. He speaks English fluently and is an orator. And yet this distinguished visitor talked to empty seats. Perhaps if Kananda would learn a skirt dance or could sing a tropical song the people would turn out to hear them [sic]. But inasmuch as his theme is instructive and strangely interesting he is denied even a fair audience.
The Saginaw Courier-Herald covered Swamiji’s visit with the following article, which appeared on Thursday, March 22:
FROM FAR OFF INDIA
Kananda, the Hindoo Preacher, Visits Saginaw and
Talks Entertainingly before a Small Audience at the Academy.
Seated in the lobby of the Hotel Vincent yesterday evening was a strong and regular featured man of fine presence, whose swarthy skin made more pronounced the pearly whiteness of his even teeth. Under a broad and high forehead his eyes betoken intelligence. This gentleman was Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo preacher. Mr. Kananda’s conversation is in pure and grammatically constructed English sentences, to which his slightly foreign accent lends piquancy. Readers of
the Detroit papers are aware that Mr. Kananda has lectured in that city a number of times and aroused the animosity of some on account of his strictures upon Christians. The Courier-Herald representative had a few moments* conversation with the learned Buddhist just before he left for the Academy, where he was to lecture. Mr. Kananda said in conversation that he was surprised at the lapses from the paths of rectitude which were so common among Christians, but that there was good and bad to be found among members of all religious bodies. One statement he made was decidedly un*American. Upon being asked if he had been investigating our institutions, he replied: “No, I am
a preacher only.” This displayed both a want of curiosity and narrowness, which seemed foreign to one who appeared to be so well versed upon religious topics as did the Buddhist preacher.
From the hotel to the Academy was but a step and at 8 o’clock Rowland Connor introduced to a small audience the lecturer, who was dressed in a long orange colored robe, fastened by a red sash, and who wore a turban of windings of what appeared to be a narrow shawl.
The lecturer stated at the opening that he had not come as a missionar), and that it was not the part of a Buddhist to convert others from their faiths and beliefs. He said that the subject of his address would be, “The Harmony of Religions.” Mr. Kananda said that many ancient religions had been founded, and were dead and gone.
He said that the Buddhists [Hindus] comprise two-thirds of the race, and that the other third comprised those of all other believers. He said that the Buddhists have no place of future torment for men. In that they differ from the Christians, who will forgive a man for five minutes in this world and condemn him to everlasting punishment in the next. Buddha was the first to teach the universal brotherhood of man. It is a cardinal principle of the Buddhist faith today. The
Christian preaches it, but does not practice its own teachings.
He instanced the condition of the Negro in the South, who is not allowed in hotels nor to ride in the same cars with white men, and is a being to whom no decent man will speak. He said that he had been in the South, and spoke from his knowledge and observation.
The lecture was interesting because of its uniqueness, and was worthy of a better filled house.
As in other towns, so in Saginaw, a Sunday sermon which took for its theme the superiority of Christianity over other religions followed Swamiji’s lecture. We must, of course, be interested in other religions, said the Methodist minister of Saginaw, but let Lhere be no mistake: the claim that there is something fundamental and permanent common to all religions “is seen to be a mere assumption when we compare the fundamental principles of Christianity and Buddhism,” and so on. But no amount of talk could undo the effect of Swamiji’s lectures on the minds and hearts of those who heard him ; for truth, as Swamiji once said, is “a corrosive substance of infinite power. It burns its way in wherever it falls – in soft substance at once, hard granite slowly. . . .”
On March 15 Swamiji wrote from Detroit to the Hale sisters: “Your moLher asked me to write to a lady in Lynn, I have never seen her. Is it etiquette to write without any introduction? Please post me a little better on this lady. Where is Lynn?” Evidently satisfied with the answers to these queries, Swamiji wrote to Mrs. Francis W. Breed of Lynn, Massachusetts, to make arrangements for a lecture and heard from her in reply. On March 30 he tells Mary Hale, “Mrs. Breed wrote to me a stitt burning letter first, and then today I got a telegram from her inviting me to be her guest for a week. Before this I got a letter from Mrs. Smith of New York writing on her behalf and another lady, Miss Helen Gould, and another Dr. (forget his name) [Guernsey?] to come over to New York. As the Lynn Club-wants me on the 17th of next month I am going to New York first andcome in, time, for their, meeting at Lynn.”
In his letters which are at present available Swamiji does not write of an invitation to lecture at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. But he must have received and accepted one before April 2, 1894, for in the Northampton Daily Hampshire Gazette of that date we read the following brief notice:
Sumai Vive Kawanda, the Hindo priest who made such a stir at the parliament of religions in Chicago, will probably lecture in this city soon.
A few days later the date of the lecture was set. On April 6, the Northampton Daily Herald and the Daily Hampshire Gazette ran the following news items, respectively:
Saturday, April 14th, Northampton people will have a chance to hear that most brilliant scholar, Vive Kananda, the Hindoo monk. While there are few who agree with him in a religious sense, there are none who will not want to hear him either from curiosity or from some other cause.
In speaking of Vivekananda, the Hindoo priest, who is to speak in our city on Saturday, April 14th,
Mrs. Gov. Bayley [Bagley] of Detroit, at whose house he has been visiting, says, “No one in the parliament of religions was more interesting than he, or their words more remembered.”
Before Swamiji left the Midwest for the East Coast he evidently made plans to visit Boston as well as Northampton and Lynn, for the Boston Evening Transcript of April 5, 1894, ran a long article entitled, “Our Coming Hindoo Guest.” With the exception of the first paragraph this article was made up of excerpts culled from the Detroit newspapers and has been reprinted in Volume IV of “The Complete Works” under the
title, “Is India a Benighted Country?” It is with the first paragraph, however, that we are concerned here ; it reads as follows:
Suami Vivekananda is coming to Boston in all the glory of his gorgeous orange turban and his advanced views on all topics, intellectual and moral. Everybody who had any interest in the Parliament of Religions while in Chicago knows of “Brother Vive Kananda,” as he likes to be called. He had come to America on an independent missionary tour of his own, to see what he could do to aid in the return to spiritual conviction for this material and dollar-worship-ping land. He is really a great man, noble, simple, sincere, and learned beyond comparison with most of our scholars. They say that a professor at Harvard [Professor John Henry Wright] wrote to the people in charge of the religious congress to get him invited to Chicago, saying, “He is more learned than all of us together.” He is coming to Boston with letters to a dozen of the best known people here from leaders of thought, action and fashion – for there is a fashion in these things, too, – in Chicago.
Whether or not Swamiji lectured in Boston during the first part of April is not certain. Very likely he did not, for the Boston newspapers do not mention him again until the middle of May when, as will be seen later, he gave several lectures. A v single item in the Northampton Daily Herald of April 13 leads us to believe, however, that he at least visited Boston in the early part of April, made many acquaintances there and perhaps gave one or two informal talks. The item reads as follows:
A prominent Boston society lady gave a novel entertainment for Vivekananda. She asked all of her guests to bring their most puzzling problems, whether of philosophy, science or religion, and propound them to the Hindu monk. They came, they asked, they were answered, and departed, saying “of a truth the half had not been told.”
Although at present we have no definite information regarding Swamiji’s activities during the first two weeks of April, it is very likely that before going East he went from Detroit to Chicago to spend some time with the Hale family, whom he looked upon as his own and whose home he thought of as his “headquarters.” Then, armed with letters of introduction, he probably visited Boston and perhaps New York. But be that as it may, it is certain that on April 14 he lectured at Northampton, Massachusetts, and on April 15 at Smith College, which is located in that city.
We need not rely upon the newspapers alone for information regarding his visit to this quiet college town. As readers may remember, Martha Brown Fincke, one of the Smith College girls who came in contact with Swamiji, wrote her reminiscences forty-two years later at the request of the Swamis at Belur Math – reminiscences which were published in Prabuddha Bharata of September, 1936, under the title “My Memories of Swami Vivekananda.” Although Mrs. Fincke’s memory was not accurate regarding the date of Swamiji’s visit (she placed it erroneously in November of 1893), and although her memory of his lectures was not vivid, Swamiji himself was indelibly impressed upon her mind. Through her reminiscences we gain an intimate picture of his almost awesome majesty, of his delightful childlike friendliness, and of the vast intellect and scholarship with which he trounced at every turn the “black-coated and somewhat austere” ministers and professors who came to instruct him regarding the superiority of Christianity. Although Mrs. Fincke’s memoirs have already been published, I believe they should be included here, for it is through memories such as these that we can learn little of the power and extraordinary luminosity of Swamiji’s presence. Mrs. Fincke writes:
At the close of the Parliament, in order to be independent of the personal benefactions of his admirers, the Swami engaged with a Lecture Bureau to tour the States beginning with the East, and early in November he came to the town of Northampton, Massachusetts. [Actually, Swamiji visited Northampton in April of 1894, after he had severed his connection with the
lecture bureau.] This charming old town, half-way between New York and Boston, and since prominent as the home of Calvin Coolidge, is situated on low hills in the Connecticut Valley just before the river plunges into the gap between Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke. In flood seasons the low-lying meadows about the town shine with the covering waters and the purple outline of the Mt. Holyoke range forms the horizon to the south. Stately elm-trees border the streets and the place had then a slumberous aspect except when an eruption of students woke it to animation. For a women’s College formed the centre of its intellectual life, Smith College, founded in 1875 by Sophia Smith for the higher education of women.
To this College I went as a Freshman in the fall of 1893, an immature girl of eighteen, undisciplined but reaching out eagerly for the things of the mind and spirit. . . . The College dormitories were not large enough to house all of the incoming class, so I with three other Freshmen boarded in a square brown house near the campus. This was kept by a lady whose independent spirit and humorous outlook endeared her to us, despite her despotic rule. College lectures for the whole body of students with compulsory attendance, were of frequent occurrence, and many well-known leaders of thought visited us.
On the Bulletin for November [April] was the name of Swarni Vivekananda who was to give two evening lectures. That he was a Hindu monk we knew, nothing more, for the fame he had won in the recent Parliament of Religions had not reached our ears. Then an exciting piece of news leaked out; he was to live at our house, to eat with us and we could ask him questions about India. Our hostess’ breadth of tolerance may be seen in receiving into her house a man with dark skin, whom the Hotel had doubtless refused to admit. As late as 1912 the great poet Tagore with his companion wandered through the streets of New York looking in vain for shelter.
The name of India was familiar to me from my earliest childhood. Had not my mother almost decided to marry a young man who went as a missionary to India, and did not a box from our Church Missionary Association go each year to the Zenanas? India was a hot land where snakes abounded and “the heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.” It is astonishing how little an eager reader like myself knew about the history or literature of that great country. . . . To talk with a real Indian would be a chance indeed.
The day came, the little guest-room was ready and a stately presence entered our home. The Swami’s dress was a black Prince Albert coat, dark trousers, and yellow turban wound in intricate folds about a finely shaped head. But the face with its inscrutable expression, the eyes so full of flashing light, and the whole emanation of power, are beyond description. We were awed and silent. Our hostess, however, was not one to be awed, and she led an animated conversation. I sat next to the Swami and with my superfluity of reverence found not a word to say.
Of the lecture that evening I can recall nothing. The imposing figure on the platform in red robe, orange cord, and yellow turban, I do remember, and the wonderful mastery of the English language with its rich sonorous tones, but the ideas did not take root in my mind or else the many years since then have obliterated them. But what I do remember was the symposium that followed.
To our house came the College President, the Head of the Philosophy Department and several other Professors, the ministers of the Northampton churches and a well-known author. In a comer of the living-room we girls sat as quiet as mice and listened eagerly to the discussion which followed. To give a detailed account of this conversation is beyond me though I have a strong impression that it dealt mainly with Christianity and why it is the only true religion. Not that the subject was the Swami’s choosing. As his imposing presence
faced the row of black-coated and somewhat austere gentlemen, one felt that he was being challenged. Surely these leaders of thought in our world had an unfair advantage. They knew their Bibles thoroughly and the European systems of philosophy, as well as the poets and commentators. How could one expect a Hindu from far-off India to hold his own with these, master though he might be of his own learning? The reaction to the surprising result that followed is my purely subjective one, but I cannot exaggerate its intensity.
To texts from the Bible, the Swami replied by other and more apposite ones from the same book. In upholding his side of the argument he quoted English philosophers and writers on religious subjects. Even the poets he seemed to know thoroughly, quoting Wordsworth and Thomas Grey (not from the well-known Elegy). Why were my sympathies not with those of my own world? Why did I exult in the air of freedom that blew through the room as the Swami broadened the scope of Religion till it embraced all mankind? Was it that his words found an echo in my own longings, or was it merely the magic of his personality? I cannot tell, I only know that I felt triumphant with him.
[A Swami at the Belur Math] said that to him Swami Vivekananda personified Love. To me that night he personified Power. I think that I can explain this from my later knowledge. No doubt these gieat men of our College world were narrow-minded, of closed convictions, “wise in their own conceit.” HOW COllld they accept the saying, “Whosoever comes to Me through whatsoever form, I reach him”? At Chicago the Swami recently felt the rancour of Christian missionaries and undoubtedly his accents took on an austerity as he felt the same spirit in these representatives of Western learning. To them Love would not appeal, but Power can awe even when it does not force agreement. The discussion, beginning with the utmost courtesy, became less* cordial, then bitterness crept in, a resentment on the part of the champions of Christianity as they felt
that it was “thumbs down’ for them. And truly it was.
The repercussion of the triumph that filled me then is with me to this day.
Early the next morning loud splashings came from the bathroom, and mingling with them a deep voice chanting in an unknown tongue. I believe that a group of us huddled near the door to listen. At breakfast we asked him the meaning of the chant. He replied, “I first put the water on my forehead, then on my breast and each time I chant a prayer for blessings on all creatures” This struck me forcibly. I was used to a morning prayer, but it was for myself first that I prayed, then for my family. It had never occurred to me to include all mankind in my family and to put them before myself.
After breakfast the Swami suggested a walk and we four students, two on each side, escorted the majestic figure proudly through the streets. As we went we shyly tried to open conversation. He was instantly responsive and smiled showing his beautiful teeth. I only remember one thing he said. Speaking of Christian doctrines, he remarked how abhorrent to him was the constant use of the term “the blood of Christ.” That made me think. I had always hated the hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins” but what daring to criticize an accepted doctrine of the Church! My “free-thinking” certainly dates from the awakening given me by that freedom-loving soul. I led the conversation to the Vedas, those holy books of India he had mentioned in his lecture. He advised me to read them for myself, preferably in the original. I then and there made a resolve to learn Sanskrit, a purpose which I regret to say I have never fulfilled. Indeed as far as outward result goes, I am a case of the good seed choked by thorns. . . .
But thorns were no match for Swamiji’s influence. Martha Brown Fincke is an example of the hundreds of people who came close to him and who received in their inner being the awakening touch of his spiritual vitality. Although she did not at once follow his teachings/ it was only a matter of time before they bore fruit. Thus her memoirs conclude:
One reads of the seeds found in Egyptian sarcophagi, buried thousands of years previously and yet retaining enough vitality to sprout when planted. Lying apparently lifeless in my mind and heart, the far-off memory of that great apostle from India has during the past year begun to send forth shoots. It has at last brought me to this country [India]. During the intervening years – years of sorrow and responsibility and struggle mingled with joy – my inmost self has been trying out this and that doctrine to see if it was what I wanted to live by. Always some dissatisfaction resulted. Dogmas and rituals, made so important by orthodox believers, seemed to me so unimportant, so curbing that freedom of the spirit that I longed for.
I find in the universal Gospel that Swamiji preached the satisfaction of my longing. To believe that the Divine is within us, that we are from the very first a part of God, and that this is true of every man, what more can one ask? In receiving this as I have on the soil of India, I feel that I have come Home.
It was precisely for this – that thousands might more quickly find their way “Home” – that Swamiji felt compelled to continue his travels in America, visiting as many places and talking to as many people as he could.
The Northampton papers, the Northampton Daily Herald and the Daily Hampshire Gazette, both heralded Swamiji’s coming for several days in advance. The following items, which appeared in one or the other of these papers, are indicative of the wide fame which had come to him since the Parliament of Religions and of the excited welcome with which he was received wherever he went, be it to a small city or a large:
NORTHAMPTON DAILY HERALD April 9, 1894
Swami Vivekananda, a high caste Brahman and a representative of orthodox Hindooism and a most
distinguished figure at the parliament of religions at the world’s fair, is to lecture in city hall on the evening of the 14th of April, He should and doubtless will be welcomed by a large and intelligent audience.
DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE April 9, 1894
An extract from the prayer of the Hindo monk, Vivekananda, at the parliament of religions, is “Thou art He that beareth the burdens of the universe; help me to bear the little burden of this life”
NORTHAMPTON DAILY HERALD Tuesday evening, April 10, 1894
Swami Vivekananda has been in Detroit lately and made a profound impression there. All classes flocked to hear him, and professional men in particular were deeply interested in his logic and soundness of thought. The opera house alone was large enough for his audiences. He speaks English extremely well and “is as handsome as he is good” says the Detroit News. [Copied from the Boston Evening Transcript, April 5, 1894.]
DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE
April 11, 1894
There is a good sale of tickets for the appearance of S. Vivekananda at city hall Saturday evening.
NORTHAMPTON DAILY HERALD April 11, 1894
At the Parliament pf Religions Vivekananda was not allowed to speak until the close of the programme,
the purpose being to make the people stay until the end of the session. On a warm day when some prosy professor talked too long, and people would leave the hall by hundreds, it only needed the announcement that Vive-kananda would give a short address before the benediction was pronounced to hold the vast audience intact, and thousands would wait for hours to hear a fifteen minutes talk from this remarkable man.
NORTHAMPTON DAILY HERALD April 12, 1894
Extract from prayer offered by Vivekananda at the parliament of religions: “At the head of all these laws, in and through every particle of matter and force, stands One through whose command the wind blows, the fire bums, the clouds rain, and death stalks upon the earth. And what is His nature? He is everywhere the pure and formless One, the Almighty and the All Merciful. Thou art our Father. Thou art our beloved Friend.”
NORTHAMPTON DAILY HERALD April 14, 1894
The famous Hindu philosopher, religionist, writer and speaker, Swami Vivekananda, who speaks in City hall this evening, quite captivated the company of
gentlemen who were invited to meet him at an Elm street residence yesterday afternoon. The many-sided intellect, subtle wisdom and broad-visioned culture of the student-priest of modest dignity are supplemented by a singularly magnetic attractiveness of personality, rendering this much-admired old-world visitor to our hero-worshipping new-world a man whom it is a liberal education to meet socially.
The day of Swamiji’s arrival, Friday, April 13, finally came, and, as we have read in Mrs. Fincke’s memoirs, “a stately presence” entered Northampton. The lecture given at the Northampton city hall, the import of which Mrs. Fincke failed to remember, was summarized and editorialized upon by the
Northampton Daily Herald of April 16 as follows:
AN EVENING WITH OUR HINDU COUSINS
For Swami Vivekananda proved conclusively that all our neighbors across the water, even the remotest, are our close cousins differing only a trifle in color, language, customs and religion, the silver-tongued Hindu monk prefacing his address in city hall Saturday evening by an historic sketch of the origin of his own and all other leading nations of the earth which demonstrated the truth that race-kinship is more of a simple fact than many know or always care to admit:
The informal address that followed regarding some of the customs of the Hindu people was more of the nature of a pleasant parlor talk, expressed with the easy freedom of the conversational adept, and to those of his hearers possessing a natural and cultivated interest in the subject both the man and his thought were intensely interesting for more reasons than can be given here. But to others the speaker was disappointing in not covering a larger scope in his word-pictures, the address, although extremely lengthy for the American lecture-platform, referring to very few of the “customs and manners” of the peculiar people considered, and of whose personal, civil, home, social and religious life much more would have been gladly heSffd from this one of the finest representatives of this oldest of races, which the average student of human nature should find preeminently interesting but really knows the least about.
The allusions to the life of the Hindu began with a picture of the birth of the Hindu boy, his introduction to educational training, his marriage, slight reference to the home life but not what was expected, the speaker
diverging frequently to make comparative comments on
the customs and ideas of his own and English-speaking
races, socially, morally and religiously, the inference in all cases being clearly in favor of his own, although most courteously, kindly and gracefully expressed. Some of his auditors who are tolerably well posted as to social and family conditions among the Hindoos of all classes would have liked to have asked the speaker a challenging question or two on a good many of the points he touched upon. For instance, when he so eloquently and beautifully portrayed the Hindu idea of womanhood as the divine motherhood ideal, to be forever reverenced, even worshipped with a devotion of loyalty such as the most woman-respecting unselfish and truest of American sons, husbands and fathers cannot even conceive of, one would have liked to know what the reply would have been to the query as to how far this beautiful theory is exemplified in practice in the majority of Hindu homes, which hold wives, mothers, daughters and sisters.
The rebuke to the greed for gain, the national vice of luxury-seeking, self-seeking, the “dollar-caste” sentiment which taints the dominant white European and American races to their mortal danger, morally and civilly, was only too just and superbly well-put, the slow, soft, quiet, unimpassioned musical voice embodying its thought with all the power and fire of the most vehement physical utterance, and went straight to the mark like the “Thou art the man” of the prophet. But when this learned Hindu nobleman by birth, nature and culture attempts to prove, – as he repeatedly did in his frequent and apparently half-unconscious digressions from the special point under consideration, – that the distinctively self-centered, self-cultivating, preeminently self-soulsaving, negative and passive, not to say selfishly indolent religion of his race has proven itself superior in its usefulness to the world to the vitally aggressive, self-forgetful, do-good-unto-others-first-lasfc-and-always, go-ye-into-all-the-world and work religion which we call Christianity, in whose name nine tenths of all the really practical moral, spiritual and philanthropic work of the
world has been and is being done, whatever sad and gross mistakes have been made by its unwise zealots, he attempts a large contract.
But to see and hear Swami Vivekananda is an opportunity which no intelligent fair-minded American ought to miss if one cares to see a shining light of the very finest product of the mental, moral and spiritual culture of a race which reckons its age by thousands where we count ours by hundreds and is richly worth the study of every mind.
Sunday afternoon the distinguished Hindu spoke to the students of Smith college at the vesper service, the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man being, virtually, his theme, and that the address made a deep impression is evinced by the report of every auditor, the broadest liberality of true religious sentiment and precept characterizing the whole trend of thought.
It was no doubt Swamiji’s “attempts to prove” the value of the Hindu religion that incited the learned doctors and ministers to call upon him after the lecture. We know from Mrs. Fincke’s memoirs what took place – a scene which was undoubtedly repeated in almost every town Swamiji visited and which evoked a feeling of triumph and exaltation in the hearts of those witnesses who, spiritually under-nourished by the dry and narrow exhortations of their parish ministers, found a rich delight in hearing Swamiji champion so ‘powerfully and so adroitly the cry of their own souls.
The following afternoon, Sunday, April 15,Swamiji spoke at Smith College. With Are exception of the last paragraph of the above quotation, all we know of this lecture comes to us from a short item in the Smith College Monthly of May, 1894, which reads as follows:
On Sunday, April 15, Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk whose scholarly exposition of Brahmanism caused such favorable comment at the Congress of Religions, spoke at Vespers. – We say much of the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God, but few understand the meaning of these words. True brotherhood is possible only when the soul draws so near to the All-Father that jealousies and petty claims of superiority must vanish because we are so much above them. We must take care lest we become like the frog of the well in the old Hindoo story, who, having lived for a long time in a small place, at last denied the existence of a larger space.
From Northampton Swamiji went to Lynn, Massachusetts, an industrial city some.. ten miles from Boston. Lynn is known primarily for its manufacture of shoes and also for the fact that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, lived there in the mid-nineteenth century before embarking upon her mission. Swamiji’s hostess, Mrs. Francis W. Breed, was one of Lynn’s social leaders. Originally from Chicago, where she no doubt had known the Hale family, she married a prominent Lynn boot and shoe manufacturer. Mr. Breed also owned a leather company and was, at the time of Swamiji’s visit, extremely wealthy. The Breeds had several children and lived in an enormous house where they entertained extensively and with an extravagance typical of the late nineteenth century. Indeed, Mrs. Breed, according to all reports, was something of a grande dame, strikingly handsome, commanding, dramatic and lavish with her money. It is said that she owned a Russian sleigh which was pulled by three horses abreast. In the winter time, ensconced in black furs, Mrs. Breed would ride majestically in this sleigh through the streets of Lynn, exciting, no doubt, the awe of the populace. Had Swamiji visited her earlier in the year he would surely have had a Russian sleigh ride, but by mid-April the snow had melted and spring was on its way. Nevertheless, if the Russian sleigh was typical of Mrs. Breed’s expensive tastes, then, winter or spring, Swamiji was entertained during his week in Lynn with a good deal of imagination and flourish.
Swamiji gave two lectures in Lynn the first on the afternoon of April 17 at the North Shore Club – a woman’s club of which Mrs. Breed was president – and the second on the evening of April 18 before the general public at Oxford Hall. Unfortunately there is no report of either to be found in the Lynn newspapers. With the exception of a notation in the Calendar of the North Shore Club to the effect that the April 12-4ecture was entitled “The Manners and Customs of India,” the following long announcement from the Lynn City Item of April 13 constitutes all the information available at present regarding the Lynn lectures. Although this article is composed largely of reprints from the Detroit papers and will, therefore, be familiar, it is quoted here in full, for it illustrates how far and how quickly Swamiji’s vindication of India became known to the country at large.
The Learned Brahmin Coming to Lynn
Monk of India in Oxford Hall.
Suami Vivekananda, a learned Brahmin from India, who came over to America on an independent missionary tour of his own to see what he could do to aid in the return to spiritual conviction for this material and dollar-worshipping land, is coming to Lynn. He will speak to the North Shore Club Tuesday, April 17, at 3 p.m., and in Oxford Hall Wednesday evening, April 18, when the public will have the opportunity of hearing him.
He is really a great man, noble, simple, sincere and learned beyond comparison with most of our scholars. They say that a professor at Harvard wrote to the people in charge of the Religious Congress to get him invited to Chicago, saying, “He is more learned than all of us together.”
In Detroit his lecture was prefaced with the statement that the speaker had been asked many questions. A number of these he preferred to answer privately, but
three he had selected, for reasons which would appear, to answer from the pulpit. They were –
“Do the people of India throw their children into the jaws of the crocodiles?”
“Do they kill themselves beneath the wheels of the juggernaut?”
“Do they burn their widows with their husbands?”
The first question the lecturer treated in the vein that an American abroad would answer inquiries about Indians running around in the streets of New York, and similar myths which are even today entertained by many persons on the Continent. The statement was too ludicrous to give a serious response to it. When asked by certain well-meaning, but ignorant people why they gave only female children to the crocodiles, he could only ironically reply that probably it was because they were softer and more tender and could be more easily masticated by the inhabitants of the rivers in the benighted country. Regarding the Juggernaut legend, the lecturer explained the old practice in the sacred city and remarked that possibly a few in their zeal to grasp the rope and participate in the drawing of the car slipped and fell and were so destroyed. Some such mishaps had been exaggerated into the distorted version from which the good people of other countries shrank with horror. Vivekananda denied that people burned widows. It was true, however, that widows had burned themselves. In the few cases where this had happened, they had been urged not to do so by the priests and holy men, who were always opposed to suicide. Where the devoted widows insisted, stating that they desired to accompany their husbands in the transformation that had taken place, they were obliged to submit to the fiery test. That is, they thrust their hands within the flames, and if they permitted them to be consumed, no further opposition was placed in the way of the fulfilment of their desires. But India is not the only country where women who have loved have followed immediately the loved one through the realms of immortality; suicides
in such cases have occurred in every land. It is an uncommon bit of fanaticism in any country; as unusual in India as else-where. No, the speaker repeated, the people do not burn women in India; nor have they ever burned witches.
This last touch is decidedly acute, by Way of reflection. No analysis of the philosophy of the Hindoo monk need be attempted here, except to say that it is based in general on the struggle of the soul to attain individual infinity.
A reporter of the Lynn City Item, who evidently had not read the above article and who obviously had not attended Swamiji’s lectures – indeed, who was on the whole not very alert, wrote another announcement on April 20, a week later, as follows:
A learned Brahmin from India is to deliver two addresses in Oxford Hall, for the entertainment and probable instruction of the people of Lynn. Shades of Parson Cooke, defend usl And one of the addresses to the club composed wholly of women. How would that sound in Hindustan? The world is making rapid strides.
Mrs. Breed was evidently as much of Boston as of Lynn, the two cities being but ten miles apart. Thus, during the week Swamiji stayed with her he not only renewed his friendship with Professor John Wright but made, no doubt, many new Boston acquaintances. Oiffinformation regarding this week of Swamiji’s life comes to us from an unpublished letter which he wrote from New York to Isabelle McKindley on April 26. This letter, is, I believe, an extremely valuable one, for it not only helps us to trace Swamiji’s activities, but provides an insight into his fortunes at this time: his victory over his critics, the state of his finances, his deep concern and regard for his mother and his growing dislike of continuous lecturing which coexisted with and was overpowered by his profound urge to awaken the people of America to spiritual truth.
New York 26th April
Your letter reached me yesterday. You were perfectly right – I enjoyed the fun of the lunatic interior [Chicago Interior – a Presbyterian newspaper, which opposed Swamiji] but the mail you sent yesterday from India was really as mother church says in her letter good news after a long interval. There is a beautiful letter from Dewanji. The old man Lord bless him – offers as usual to help me. Then there was a little pamphlet published in Calcutta about me – revealing that once at least in my life the prophet has been honored in his own country. There are extracts from American and Indian papers and magazines about me. The extracts printed from Calcutta papers were especially gratifying although the strain is so fulsome that I refuse to send the pamphlet over to you – They call me illustrious, wonderful and all sorts of nonsense but they forward me the gratitude of the whole nation. Now I do not care what they even of my own people say about me – except for one thing. I have an old mother She has suffered much all her life and in the midst of all she could bear to give me up for the service of God and man – but to have given up the most beloved of her children – her hope – to live a beastly immoral life in a far distant country – as Mazoomdar was telling in Calcutta would have simply killed her. But the Lord is great none can injure His children.
The cat is out of the bag – without my seeking at all. And who do you think is the editor of one of our leading papers which praise me so much and thanks God that I came to America to represent Hinduism? Mazoomdar’s cousin! ! – Poor Mazoomdar – he has injured his cause by telling lies through jealousy. Lord knows I never attempted any defence.
‘I read the article of Mr. Gandhi in the Forum before this.
If you have got the Review of Reviews of last month – read to mother the testimony about the Hindus in connection with the opium question in India by one of the highest officials of the English in India. He compares the English with the Hindus and lauds the hindu to the skies. Sir Lepel Griffin – was one of the bitterest enemies of our race. What made this change of front?
I had a very good time in Boston at Mrs. Breeds – and saw prof Wright. I am going to Boston again. The tailor is making my new gown – I am going to speak at Cambridge University [Harvard] and would be the guest of prof Wright there – they write grand welcomes to me in the Boston papers.
I am tired of all this nonsense – towards the latter part of May I will come Backto Chicago. And after a few days stay would come Backto the East again.
I spoke last night at the Waldorf hotel. Mrs Smith sold tickets at 2$ each I had a full hall which by the way was a small one. I have not seen anything of the money yet hope to see in the course of the day.
I made a hundred dollars at Lynn which I do not send because I have to make my new gown and other nonsense.
Do not expect to make any money at Boston Still I must touch the Brain of America and stir it up if I can
Your loving brother Vivekananda
Originally, Swamiji had arranged to go to New York before visiting Lynn, but as matters turned out it was not until April 24 that he spoke before Mrs. Smith’s “Conversation Circle” at the Waldorf Hotel. The little that we are able to discover regarding this lecture comes from ‘an item in the New York Daily Tribune of April 25
A LECTURE ON “INDIA AND HINDUISM”
Swami Vivekananda lectured before Mrs. Arthur Smith’s conversation circle last evening at the Waldorf on “India and Hinduism.” Miss Sara Humbert, contralto, and Miss Annie Wilson, soprano, sang several selections. The lecturer wore an orange-colored coat and the accompanying yellow turban, which is called a beggar’s suit. This is worn when a Buddhist has given up “everything for God and humanity.” The theory of reincarnation was discussed. The speaker said that many clergymen who were more aggressive than learned asked: “Why one is unconscious of a former life if such a thing had been?” The reply was that “It would be childish to lay a foundation for consciousness, as man is unconscious of his birth in this life, and also of much that has transpired.”
The speaker said that “no such thing” as “a Judgment Day” existed in his religion, and that his god neither punished nor rewarded. If wrong was done in any way, the natural punishment was immediate. The soul, he added, passed from one body to another, until it had become a perfect spirit, able to do without the limitations of a body.
Among the large number present were Dr. and Mrs. Dewey, Dr. and Mrs. Guernsey and Miss Guernsey, Mrs. David King, Jr., Mmc. Van Norman, Miss Phoebe Cousins, Miss Phillips, C. Amory Stevens, Charles A. Montgomery, Mrs. J. C. Ward, Dr. R. B. Karib, Canon Knowles, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Calvert, Roderick Perry Hughes and Mrs. Arthur Smith.
Swamiji remained in New York from April 24 to May 6, evidently lecturing before various gatherings, giving informal talks and meeting many people. In another hitherto unpublished letter written from New York to Isabelle McKindley he tells a little of his activities during that time. This letter also gives a glimpse of that side of him which was so childlike and gay even in the midst of duties that were irksome. (Although he dates this letter May 2, it is clear from the postmark on the envelope, as well as from internal evidence, that he wrote it on May 1.)
2nd May ’94
I am afraid I cannot send you the pamphlet just now. But I got a little bit of a newspaper cutting from India yesterday which I send you up. After you have read it kindly send it over to Mrs Bagley. The editor of this paper is a relative of Mr Mazoomdar. I am now sorry for poor Mazoomdar! 1 [The last two sentences were written crosswise on the left margin.]
I could not find the exact orange colour of my coat here so I have been obliged to satisfy myself with the next best a cardinal red with more of yellow.
The coat will be ready in a few days.
Got about 70$ the other day by lecturing at Waldorf. And hope to get some more by tomorrow’s lecture.
From 7 th to 19th there are engagements in Boston but they pay very little.
Yesterday I bought a pipe for 13$ – mershaum do not tell it to father Pope. The coat will cost 30$. I am all right getting food and money enough – Hope very soon to put something in the bank after the coming lecture.
I have eaten a good slice of meat – just now because in the evening I am going to speak in a vegetarian dinner!
Well I am a vegetarian for all that because I prefer it when I can get it – I have another invitation to lunch with Lyman Abbott day after tomorrow. After all I am having very nice time and hope to have very nice time in Boston – only that nasty nasty lecturing- – disgusting. However as soon as 19th is over – one leap from Boston Bake-beans to Chicago smoked-hams and then I .will have a long long breath and rest rest for two three weeks I will simply sit down and talk talk and smoke.
By the by your New York people are very good – only more money than brains.
I am going to speak to the students of the Harvard University Three lectures at Boston 3 at Harvard – all arranged by Mrs. Breed. }They are arranging something here too so that I will on my way to Chicago come to New York once more – give them a few hard raps and pocket the boodle and fly to Chicago.
If you want anything from New York or Boston which can not be had at Chicago – write sharp – I have plenty of dollars now I will send you over anything you want in a minute Don’t think it would be indelicate anyway – no humbug about me If I am a brother so I am – I hate only one thing in the world hypocrisy.
Your affectionate bro Vivekananda
It should be noted by the Indian reader that Boston was famous for its baked beans and Chicago for its smoked hams. Swamiji was not referring to his own eating habits; he was simply poking fun at American specialties.
Swamiji’s second lecture in New York was given on the evening of May 2 at the home of Miss Mary Phillips, who had been among those present at Swamiji’s lecture at the Waldorf Hotel. She later became one of his fast friends, offering him her hospitality and help and he often used her home in New York at 19 West 38th Street as a sort of headquarters, giving it as his return address on many of his letters to India. Miss Phillips is spoken of in “The Life*’ as one of “the eager workers in his cause,” and as “a lady prominent in many circles in women’s charitable and intellectual work in the metropolis.” But to return to Swamiji’s second New York lecture, the following small item from the New York Daily Tribune of May 3, 1894, tells what little we know of it:
A LECTURE ON INDIA AND REINCARNATION
Swami Virekanmda lectured on “India and Reincarnation” last evening at the home of Miss Mary
Phillips, No. 19 West Thirty-eighth-st. He mentioned among other salient points regarding Hindooism, or Brahminism, that their religion bore no distinctive name; that it was considered that a belief in the truth of all creeds was religion, and that the belief that one certain dogma was the real and only religion was sect. The Karmic law of cause and effect was explained, also the external and internal natures in their close relations to each other. The actions in this world, as governed by a previous life and the change to still another life, were dwelt upon in detail. Among the large number present were Miss Emma Thursby, Roderick Perry Hughes, Professor Leon Londsberg, Professor Woodford, Dr. Holman, Thomas E. Calvert, a number of members of the Emerson Club, Miss Alice Ives, Miss Katharine Stag, Mrs. Samuel Swan, Mr. and Mrs. Doubleday, Mrs. Arthur Smith, Miss Caroline Whitcher and Isaac B. Mills.
It is interesting to note the names of those who attended Swamiji’s first two New York lectures; for among them were many who were to serve his cause loyally for years to come. At the Waldorf lecture were, for instance, Dr. and Mrs. Guernsey, who became his close friends, whom he visited in Fishkill Landing later that summer, and at whose home in New York he often stayed. At Swamiji’s second lecture were Miss Emma Thursby, the famous singer, who was a friend of Mrs. Ole Bull’s and who, together with Miss Phillips and Mrs. Arthur Smith, later became a member of the New York Vedanta Society. Then there was Lfctm Landsberg who, as is well known, became one of Swamiji’s ardent disciples and with whom, as will be seen later, Swamiji lived for several months in New York. Actually Landsberg was not a professor, as was stated in the Tribune report, but a writer and newspaperman, employed at the time on the staff of one of New York’s prominent dailies. Mr. Landsberg was, perhaps, something of a Bohemian with a disregard of, if not disdain for, convention. In Volume VIII of “The Complete Works,” we find a letter written to him by Swamiji on September 13, 1894 : “Forgive me, but I have the right, as your Guru, to advise you, and I insist that you buy some clothes for yourself, as the want of them stands in the way of your doing anything in this country. Once you have a start, you may dress in whatever way you like. People do not object.” But of Landsberg, more later.
How many talks Swamiji gave at private homes and before clubs during his April, 1894, visit in New York we cannot know, nor can we know how many people of intellectual and religious influence he met, learning from them the current trends of thought and, in turn, giving their outlook upon life a new color and direction. In his letter of May 1 to Miss Isabelle McKindley Swamiji wrote, as will be remembered, “I have another invitation to lunch with Lyman Abbott day after to-morrow.” Lyman Abbott, five foot three and of prominent nose and scraggly beard, was an extremely well-known clergyman who took an active part in social and industrial reform and in the religious and theological movements of the time. He was, when Swamiji knew him, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn and the chief editor of the Outlook, an important and widely read magazine, with whose editorial staff, one learns from “The Life,” he invited Swamiji to dine. It is very likely that Swamiji and Lyman Abbott had first met at the Parliament of Religions, where Abbott had read a paper of some length. Lyman Abbott represented the best of those Christian clergymen and writers of the late nineteenth century who, with reservations, became Swamiji’s friends. Those reservations were, of course, inbred in the Christian divine. Nevertheless Abbott was obviously influenced by Swamiji, practically quoting him when he said in an interview given in May of 1894: “It is neither probable that we ever shall nor desirable that we ever should think and feel alike or express our thoughts and feelings in the same forms; if ever a church unity is brought about it will be by a common recognition of the essentials in which we are one, and a readiness to cooperate with the largest liberty in forms of life. The spring is one, though the flowers are infinitely diverse.” This was a decided improvement upon Abbott’s talk at the Parliament of Religions, in which he had said : “We believe that He is a speaking God, in all times and in all ages. But we believe no other revelation transcends and none other equals that which He has made to man in the one transcendental human life that was lived eighteen centuries ago in Palestine.”
Yet, though Lyman Abbott presumably owed a widening of his thought to Swamiji, he was later to respond to a query from the Christian missionaries in India as to the truth of the alarming reports that Swamiji had “made hundreds of converts in America from Christianity to Hinduism” in the following words: “We are familiar with this phenomenon in America which gives in succession apparent converts now to Spiritualism, now to Hypnotism, now to Christian Science, now to Theosophy, now to Hinduism, a conversion rarely of either intellect or affections, still less of stable purposes, but partly of ardent impulses, partly of idle curiosity. Meanwhile the Church of Christ goes on its way increasing, as the statistics show, in numbers faster than the population, rapidly as that has increased, and as Christian activity shows, increasing also in rational and practical faith which believes more and more in deeds and less and less in dreaming.” It would seem that when even a liberal Christian clergyman held out his right hand to Swamiji, the left clung fast to the pillars of orthodoxy.
Swamiji probably met other well-known Christian clergymen during his visit to New York. It is, for instance, not unlikely that Dr. and Mrs. Guernsey honored him at this time with the dinner party of creeds which one reads about in Constance Townes article, “Swami Vivekananda As I Knew Him,” published in Prabuddha Bharata of January, 1934. Although Mrs. Towne did not record her memories of her
first meeting with Swamiji until some forty years later, it was
an event which had remained vivid in her mind. If the Guernseys’ Sunday afterncASn dinner was given during Swamiji’s first visit to New York, as one can reasonably assume it was, it must have taken place on April 29, this being the only Sunday in his brief stay. Of this somewhat incendiary affair Mrs. Towne, who at the time was Miss Gibbons, writes :
. . . When I met him he was twenty-seven years old [ ? ]. I thought him as handsome as a god of classic sculpture. He was dark of skin, of course, and had large eyes which gave one the impression of “midnight
blue.” He seemed larger than most of his race, who often to us appear slight of frame because they are small-boned. He had a head heaped with short black curls. . . .
Our meeting was rather unusual. After his triumph at Chicago he was, of course, showered with invitations to come to New York, where the great of all the world are entertained. Here lived at that time a very famous physician, Dr. Egbert Gurnsey [sic], genial, literary and ideally hospitable, with a spacious and very handsome house on Fifth Avenue at Forty-fourth Street. It was Dr. Gurnsey’s pleasure, heartily endorsed by his charming wife and daughter, to introduce celebrated visitors from abroad to New York society. It was to be expected that he would pay special honor to the great Swami, whose ideal of closer relations between the East and the West in the interest of religion and world peace so strongly appealed to him.
Dr. Gurnsey accordingly arranged to give a Sunday afternoon dinner party at which every guest should represent a different religious creed, he himself holding the view-point of Robert Ingersoll, who was absent from the city. His Grace the Cardinal was interested but declined to dine or to appoint a substitute from among his clergy. So it happened that I being a Catholic and trained by the noted Jesuit Priest. William O’Brien Pardow. S. J., had the privilege of being a guest at that famous Sunday dinner. Dr. Gurnsey, who was my physician, sent for me to uphold Catholicism. Dr. Parkhurst was there, and Minnie Maddern Fiske, the famous American actress, who was staying with the Gurnseys at the time. I remember that there were fourteen at table.
There was, of course, a tacit understanding that everyone should be polite about his or her religious differences with the Swami and his so-called non-Christian (“Pagan” is a hard word !) attitude. Alas ! as the dinner progressed, the most heated dispute was
not with the Swami at all. All of the differences were confined to the Evangelical brethren I
I was seated beside the Swami. We looked on in amused silence at the almost comical intolerance of the Creeds. Now and again our host would adroitly make some wise or humorous remark that kept the conversation on a plane not actually injurious to the function of digestion. The Swami would make from time to time a little speech apparently in explanation of his native land and the customs of its people so different from our own, but always to gain his point in philosophy and religion. A more broad-minded and tolerant man surely could not have been found anywhere in India to carry out the mission of founding Vedanta Centres in America.
He wore on that occasion his orange cassock, a cincture of deep rose-red silk, and his turban of white shot with threads of gold. His feet, otherwise bare, were covered by sandals of soft brown leather.
It was at this dinner that our friendship began. Afterwards, in the drawing-room, he said to me: “Miss Gibbons, your philosophy and mine are one; and the heart of our faiths is the same.”
Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, who attended the dinner, was one of the best-known clergymen of the day. He was pastor of the then fashionable Madison Square Presbyterian Church and liked to preach, as did many another contemporary minister, on current issues – political, economic and social. But, unlike others, Parkhurst did not &ep at preaching, but had recently created an upheaval in New York politics. In a famous sermon delivered on February 14, 1892, he had denounced from his pulpit the mayor, the district attorney and the police, all of whom were, he declared, linked in an “official and administrative criminality that is filthifying our entire municipal life, making New York a verv hotbed of knavery, debauchery and bestiality.” These charges, not unfounded, created a sensation, and it was up to Parkhurst to .substantiate them. Accordingly, disguised as a ruffian – a transformation difficult for the dignified pastor – he set out on a three-weeks’ tour of New York’s “dens of vice.” The first-hand evidence he thus collected caused a second sensation and resulted, in 1894. in the defeat of Tammany Hall and the election of a reform mayor.
Although there is no record of how Swamiji and Dr. Parkhurst got along together at Dr. Guernsey’s dinner party, they perhaps enjoyed one another’s company, for the minister was a gentle, scholarly and, withal, a courageous man. On the whole, however, this seems to have been a strange and combustible gathering – an opinion shared by Miss Gibbons’ mother. Constance Towne’s memoirs continue:
I then lived with my mother at the Beresford Apartments at 1, East Eighty-first Street, overlooking Central Park. My mother was Southern, of the royal French blood, from Charleston, South Carolina, and a famous beauty, dark of eyes and hair. She was a witty woman and delighted in the social pleasures centering about the Church of England, to which, she maintained, all the aristocratic world belonged. Thus the Swami and I were outside the fold. I told my mother of him on my return home from Dr. Gurnsey’s dinner party, and what a splendid mind he had. I dwelt on the great force which had come to us. To which she replied: “What a terrible dinner party, with all those Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians, and one black Fagan in orange cloths! ” But she grew to
like Vivekananda, to respect his view-point, and afterwards joined one of the Vedanta Centres. She was awfully amusing to him, and I can see him now, after all these years, laughing so gaily at her remarks about him.
While we are quoting Mrs. Towne’s memoirs, an incident which must have taken place later than the spring of 1894 can be included, for it is illustrative of the sensation Swamiji made by his very appearance even in New York, a city to which the unusual had become the usual. Mrs. Towne writes:
On one occasion there was an all-star cast in “Faust” at the Metropolitan Opera, on a Monday night when all society appeared to sit in their boxes and show their anatomy covered with jewels; to gossip, to visit, to come in late and be observed o£ all observers,, and to do everything but listen to the opera. There was Melba in her prime, the de Reszkes and Bauermeis-ter. The Swami had never been to the opera, and our subscription seats were in a conspicuous part of the orchestra. I had suggested that the Swami be invited to accompany us. Mama said to him: “But you are black. What will the world say ?” To which he laughed and said : “I will sit beside my sister. She does not mind, I know.”
He never looked more handsome. Everyone about us was so wrapped up in him that I am sure they did not listen to the opera at all that night.
I tried to explain the story of “Faust” to Vivekananda. Mama, hearing me, said : “Heavens * you, a young girl, should not tell this awful story to a man.”
“Then why do you make her come herself, if it is not good ?” said the Swami.
“Well,” replied Mama, “it is the thing to do to go to the opera. All the plots are bad ; but one need not discuss the plot
Alas for poor, vapid humanity and its foolishnessf Later on during the performance the Swami said : “My sister, the gentleman who is making love to the beautiful lady in song,*ts he really in love with her ?”
“Oh, yes, Swamiji.”
“But he has wronged her, and makes her sad.”
“Yes,” I said humbly.
“Oh, now I see,” said the Swami. “He is not in love with the handsome lady, he is in love with the handsome gentleman in red with the tail – what do you call him ? – the Devil.” Thus that pure .mind reasoned out, weighed and found wanting both the opera arid the audience.
One of society’s pets, a very young girl, came down between the acts to Mama and said : “Mama is consumed with curiosity to know who the elegant man is in the yellow dressing gown.”
Although in the 1890’s hansom cabs, cable cars and horse-cars, rather than automobiles, buses and taxicabs, crowded the streets of New York, and although the highest skyscraper was little more than twenty stories high, the city was already the metropolis of the Western Hemisphere, the humming center of New World civilization. People of all races, nationalities and creeds made it then, as now, a teeming world -one could never fully know – an ever-changing kaleidoscope of human joy, suffering and striving. Swamiji evidently liked New York, feeling in its people an openness to new ideas and an energy which could bring those ideas to fruition. A glimpse of him in the very heart of the city, the clatter of iron wheels and horses’ hooves on the rough stone pavement of Fifth Avenue no doubt echoing in his cars, comes to us through the poetess, Harriet Monroe, who writes in her autobiography, “A Poet’s Life” :
Later after the Parliament of Religions I knew him quite well, and always I shall remember an encounter and talk years after in Fifth Avenue, when his eyes soared up to the tip of a sky-scraper, and he said something which made me realize that all this newness was as romantic to him as the old things are to us, and that his vision entrusted to our fresh energies his hope of a more united and glorious world.
Indeed, wherever Swamiji saw an expression of man’s vitality and creativity, there he saw the vitality and creativity of the Divine Mother. Strength in whatever form spoke to him, as it were, on a deep level where man’s energy as expressed in a skyscraper was not different from the divine energy sustaining and moving the universe. It was the same energy and power which he himself embodied.
In the autobiographies of others who had met Swamiji, one now and then comes across a few lines of recollection, and something of the dynamic force which emanated from him is vividly conveyed to us. Those who had met him only once never forgot him. The following few paragraphs are taken from “Heads and Tales” by Malvina Hoffman, the famous sculptress :
India brought Backone of my vivid memories of childhood, an exciting evening spent with a relative of my father’s who lived in a modest boarding-house in West Thirty-eighth Street. In the midst of this group of old-fashioned city boarders was introduced suddenly a newcomer – the oriental philosopher and teacher, Swami Vivekananda. When he entered the diningroom there was a hush. His dark, bronzed countenance and hands were in sharp contrast to the voluminous, light folds of his turban and robe.
His dark eyes hardly glanced up to notice his neighbors, but there was a sense of tranquility and power about him that made an imperishable impression upon me. He seemed to personify the mystery and religious “aloofness” of all true teachers of Brahma, and combined with this a kindly and gentle attitude of simplicity towards his fellow men.
It was many years later, in 1931, that we visited outside of Calcutta, at Belur, the marble temple which was dedicated to this same man by the thousands of his devoted followers. When I offered the garland of
jasmin to be laid on the altar, I recalled, with emotion, that the only time I had seen this holy man, he had revealed to me more of the true spirit of India, without even uttering a word, than I had ever sensed in the many lectures on India, or by Indians, which I had attended since.
Even the skeptics were drawn to Swamiji, liking him despite themselves. One amusing example of this is., told in Albert Spalding’s autobiography, “Rise to Follow.” The following passage relates to the violinist’s childhood when his family lived in an apartment house at Central Park South and Seventh Avenue. Although this incident very likely took place at a later date than April, 1894, 1 believe it can be told here, for it is an example of Swamiji’s universal appeal :
Once an Indian swami came to dinner. He was none other than the renowned Vivekananda. Aunt Sally found him fascinating, though she could never quite see the exalted spirituality that his fleet of admirers claimed for him. For the paeans of praise that filled the air she had pithy rejoinders. “Land-a-mercy,” she would retort to some assertion of the swami’s rigidly ascetic life, “ascetic life, indeed ! Let me tell you that that man, Indian or no Indian, priest or no priest, that man never got such a generous figure living on wild-flowers ! “
“But, Aunt Sally, you know you liked him. You showed you did.”
“Certainly, I liked him. I like lots of men, and I don’t have to think they’re Jesus of Nazareth just because I do.” She would hold her breath with a kind of smothered chuckle when she felt she had been on the brink of blasphemy.
The evening parties were almost always musical ones. Even the swami did not escape, although my mother had qualms and did not let the music go on too long.
On April 25 and again on May 4 Swamiji wrote from New York to his good friend, Professor John Henry Wright, whom he had recently seen in Boston. The following letters, which have been made available to us through the kindness of Professor Wright’s son, Mr. John K. Wright, are of great help in straightening out Swamiji’s itinerary at this period of his life, our previous knowledge of which has been sketchy and confused:
25th April ’94
I am very very grateful for your invitation. And will come on May 7th As for the bed – my friend, your love and noble heart can convert the stone into down.
I am sorry I am not going to the authors’ breakfast at Salem
I am coming home by May 7 th
Yours truly Vivekananda
Before presenting Swamiji’s second letter to Professor Wright, I should perhaps remind the Western reader that the term “Adhyapakji” means “Respected Professor.”
New York 4th May 1894
I have received your kind note just now. And it is unnecessary for me to say that I will be very happy to do as you say.
I have also received Col. Higginson’s letter – I will reply to him.
I will be in Boston on Sunday [May 6]. On Monday I lecture at the Women’s Club of Mrs. Howe.
Yours ever truly Vivekananda
Colonel Higginson, of whom we will hear more later, had been a delegate to the Parltement of Religions and was one of the more liberal-minded writers of the age. He was interested in the Free Religious Association, the motivating idea of which was contained in his paper, “The Sympathy of Religions,” which he had read at the Parliament and which had created a furor in Boston. As we shall learn further on, Swamiji was invited to speak at a meeting of the Free Religious Association held in August, 1894, at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The reader will have gathered from the above letter that Swamiji arrived in Boston on Sunday, May 6, and, at the invita
tion of Mrs. Howe, lectured before a women’s dub on Monday, May 7.
There can be little doubt that this Mrs. Howe was the famous Julia Ward Howe, who many years earlier had written, Tn a moment of fire, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and who was otherwise known as an upholder of innumerable causes, such as peace, universal suffrage, Russian freedom, the higher education of women, and so on. Both Mrs. Howe and Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson were among the last of those men and women who represented the golden age of New England culture, which had reached its height before the Civil War. By the 1890’s an age of nostalgia had set in; Boston looked, on the one hand, Backto its lost glory and, on the other hand, ahead to it knew not what. It was an age of radically changing values, in which all that had been strong, exuberant and idealistic seemed to be dying, with nothing worth while to take its place. There remained, however, a few sturdy souls who upheld the old literary and scholastic traditions, who were, indeed, oblivious of the growing commercialism and utilitarianism that had invaded the “American Athens.” “These magnanimous worthies,” writes Van Wyck Brooks, an authority on New England culture, “these generous natures, for whom nothing had ever existed that was common or mean, were destined to see mankind as forever triumphant. They ignored the signs of the times and lived above them, as Emerson had lived all his life.” Mrs. Howe, one of these worthies, was seventy-five in 1894 and is described by Brooks as Swamiji must have seen her: “The great-grand-
motherly Mrs. Howe, never at a loss for causes, appeared in her lace hood at every meeting. No meeting could have deserved the name unless she recited the ‘Battle Hymn,’ in her flowered silk cloak and lilac satin. She was never too old to appear at the State House to plead for justice or mercy, – no day without its cause was her constant motto… As a national institution, Dr. Hale [Edward Everett] was her only rival.”
How well Swamiji and these sturdy, old-time Bostonians must have got on together! The spirit of Transcendentalism was still .alive in their hearts, and in Swamiji they must have found the past suddenly bursting forth with a voice powerful enough to carry their ideals and causes into the future. There was nothing bigoted, nothing small, in these old-time New Englanders.
The day following Swamiji’s lecture before “the Women’s Club of Mrs. Howe” (undoubtedly the New England Woman’s Club, of which Julia Ward Howe was president) he spoke – to the younger generation of Bostonians at Radcliffe, a recently founded college for women, associated with Harvard University and familiarly known as the “Harvard Annex,” or just simply the “Annex.” Earlier in this story of Swamiji’s life in America we quoted extensively from the letters and papers of Mrs. John Henry Wright. Now, with the aid of her journal, we are able to learn something of his activities that have hitherto been unknown and to feel something of the impact of his personality upon those with whom he came in contact. As will be seen from the following excerpts, which Mrs. Wright’s son, Mr. John K. Wright, has made available to us, her journal was written for the most part as though she were giving a day-by-day narrative of a mythical family called the “Kirtlands.”
(At the time of Swamiji’s visit to Boston the Wrights were evidently preparing to move from their home in Cambridge to Annisquam, where they usually spent their summers).
May 7, 1894.
Mr. Kirtland [Dr. Wright] had invited an Oriental to spend the next week with them, Swami Vivekananda; but the Swami elected to stay at a hotel in Boston. It was quite a relief for Mrs. Kirtland although she liked the Oriental; but the packing was more than she could manage with a Heathen God always at hand, at least
she feared so. He had been with them in the previous summer.
Saturday, May 12, 1894.
On Tuesday [May 8] Vivekananda spoke before the Annex upon his religion. It was most poetic, full of reverence and that deep feeling that for the moment makes converts. The trivial faces of some of the women hardened into a fixed attention and they seemed to be straining every nerve in order to follow the speaker;
but when he began to’ tell us our faults and show up our follies and crimes he came down to a lower level and they laughed with the vexed laugh born of a sting.
The widows of high caste in India do not marry, he said; only the widows of low caste may marry, may eat, drink, dance, have as many husbands as they choose, divorce them all, in short enjoy all the benefits of the highest society in this country. Then we laughed. … Thursday [May 10] Vivekananda spoke at the Round Table at Mr. Collidge’s in Boston. He again amused himself by making flings at the Americans. Witty, bitter, sharp flings that were all deserved, all neatly done, all to the point but the man has it in him to do higher things. He looked very picturesque in his yellow urban and scarlet robe, and he spoke with a good deal of dignity. Reproached the country for its plutocracy, its bad morals, its lack of religion.
“When we are fanatical,” he said, “we torture ourselves, we throw ourselves under huge cars, we cut our throats, we lie on spiked beds ; but when you are fanatical you cut other people’s throats, you torture them by fire and put them on spiked beds! You take very good care of your own skins! “
It is obvious that Mrs. Wright appreciated Swamiji, indeed was deeply impressed by him, recognizing him as a man of great stature; yet it appears that she was also somewhat repelled by that side of him which could never make itself “sweet and accommodating to every black falsehood.” Like a fierce and cleansing wind, Swamiji Lore into and uprooted all that was dead and obstructive in the forests of human life, at the same time scattering the seeds of a new and vigorous growth. He was well able to take on the responsibility of telling people the unsavory facts about themselves, for never did he do so without simultaneously revealing a deeper truth. Such was his compassion and his power for good that his audience rarely remarked upon his “witty, bitter, sharp flings.” We owe this picture largely to Mrs. Wright – the picture of Swamiji lecturing to rows of “trivial faces” and neatly turning them, as it were, inside out, exposing the absurdities and contradictions of their lives and thought.
This process, of course, did not delight everyone. It is told in “The Life” that in Boston Swamiji once spoke “before a large audience gathered to hear him lecture on ‘My Master/ ” “Full of the fire of renunciation” the passage reads, .. when he saw before him the audience composed, for the most part, of worldly-minded men and women lacking in spiritual sympathy and earnestness, he felt that it would be a desecration to speak to them of his understanding of, and his real feelings of devotion for Sri Ramakrishna. So, instead, he launched out in a terrible denunciation of the vulgar, physical and materialistic ideas which underlay the whole of Western civilization. Hundreds of people left the hall abruptly, but in no way affected, he went on to the end. The next morning the papers were filled with varying criticism, some highly favourable, others severely critical in their analysis of what he had said, but all commenting on his fearlessness, sincerity and frankness”
Unfortunately, a search of the Boston papers has, so far, not yielded reports of Swamiji’s tongue-lashing of his Boston audience. It is fairly certain, however, that this lecture does not belong to the period with which we are concerned at present; for according to Swamiji’s letter of May 1, 1894, to Isabelle McKindley, he gave, in all, six lectures at Harvard and Boston during the first part of May, all of which are accounted for.
As has been seen, Swamiji’s first lecture fell on May 7 before the “Women’s Club of Mrs. Howe” the second on May 8 at Radcliffe College, and the third on May 10 at “Mr. Collidge’s Round Table” in Boston. Although in an article, which has already been quoted, the Boston Evening Transcript of April 5 heralded Swamiji’s coming with great excitement, it was remiss, as were the other Boston papers, in reporting on these first three lectures. On May 12, however, the Transcript ran the following announcements:
Mr. Swami ViveKananda will give a lecture, “The Manners and Customs of India” at Association Hall, on
Monday afternoon, in aid of the Tyler-Street Day Nursery.
Mr. Swami Vivekananda will give a lecture, “The Religions of India” in Association Hall, next Wednesday afternoon for the benefit of Ward 16 Day Nursery. Among the matters explained will be the distinction between image worship and idolatry, the various Indian conceptions of the Deity and the teachings of the ancient Hindoo philosophers.
It was characteristic of Swamiji that, although his primary aim at this period of his life was still to collect funds for India, he could not say no to those who asked him to contribute his earnings to various American charities. The lecture of May 14, given for the benefit of the Tyler-Street Day Nursery and entitled “The Manners and Customs of India,” was reported upon by both the Boston Evening Transcript and the Boston Herald of May 15. The reports are so similar that it will be sufficient to reproduce only that of the Elcrald, which reads as follows:
THE RELIGION OF INDIA
It is Described by Swami Vivekananda,The Brahmin Monk.
Association Hall was crowded with ladies yesterday, to hear Swami Vivekananda, the Brahmin Monk, talk about “The Religion of India” [actually “The Manners and Customs of India”], for the benefit of the ward 16 day nursery [actually, Tyler-Street Day Nursery]. The Brahmin monk has become a fad in Boston, as he was in Chicago last year, and his earnest, honest, cultured manner has won many friends for him.
The Hindoo nation is not given to marriage, he said, not because we are women haters, but because our religion teaches us to worship women. The Hindoo is taught to see in every woman his mother, and no man wants to marry his mother. God is mother to us. We don’t care anything about God in heaven; it is mother
to us. We consider marriage a low vulgar state, and if a man does marry, it is because he needs a helpmate for religion.
You say we ill-treat our women. What nation in the world has not ill-treated its women ? In Europe or America a man can marry a woman for money, and, after capturing her dollars, can kick her out. In India, on the contrary,when a woman marries for money, her children are considered slaves, according to our teaching, and when a rich man marries, his money passes into the hands of his wife, so that he would be scarcely likely to turn the keeper of his money out of doors.
You say we are heathens, we are uneducated, uncultivated, but we laugh in our sleeves at your want of refinement in telling us such things. With us, quality and birth make caste, not money. No amount of money can do anything for you in India. In caste the poorest is as good as the richest, and that is one of the most beautiful things about it.
Money has made warfare in the world, and caused Christians to trample on each other’s necks. Jealousy, hatred and avariciousness are born of money-getters. Here it is all work, hustle and bustle. Caste saves a man from all this. It makes it possible for a man to live with less money, and it brings work to all. The man of caste has time to think of his soul, and that is what we want in the society of India.
The Brahmin is born to worship God, and the higher his caste, the greater his social restrictions are. Caste has kept us alive as a nation, and while it has many defects, it has many more advantages.
Mr. Vivekananda described the universities and colleges of India, both ancient and modern, notably the one at Benares, that has 20,000 students and professors.
When you judge my religion, he continued, you take it that yours is perfect and mine wrong ; and when you criticise the society of India you suppose it to be uncultured just so far as. it does not conform to your standard. That is nonsense.
In reference to the matter of education, the speaker said that the educated men of India become professors, while the less educated become priests.
According to the Boston Evening Transcript of May 15, the hour for Swamiji’s next lecture, that of May 16, was “fixed late – from 3:30 till 5:30 – so that business men may attend.” A report of this lecture, “The Religions of India,” appeared in the Boston Herald of May 17, as follows:
BY THE BRAHMIN MONK
Lecture in Aid of the Ward 16 Day Nursery Delivered Yesterday Afternoon.
The Brahmin monk, Swami Vivekananda, lectured yesterday afternoon in Association Hall on “The Religions of India,” in aid of the Ward 16 Day Nursery. There was a large attendance.
The speaker first gave an account of the Mahommedans, who formed, he said, one-fifth of the population. They believed in both Old and New Testaments, but Jesus Christ they regarded only as a prophet. They had no church organization, though there was reading of the Koran.
The Parsees, another race, called their sacred book the Zend-Avesta, and believed in two warring deities, Armuzd the good and Ahriman the evil. They believed that finally the good would triumph over the evil. Their moral code was summed up in the words: “Good thought, good words, good deeds.”
The Hindus proper looked up to the Vedas as their religious scripture. They held each individual to the customs of caste, but gave him full liberty to think for himself in religious matters. A part of their method was to seek out some holy man or prophet in order to take advantage of the spiritual current that flowed through him.
The Hindus had three different schools of religion – the dualistic, the qualified monistic and the monistic – and these three were regarded as stages through which each individual naturally passed in the course of his religious development.
All three believed in God, but the dualistic school believed that God and man were separate entities, while the monistic declared that there was only one existence in the universe, this unitary existence being neither God nor soul, but something beyond.
The lecturer quoted from the Vedas to show the character of the Hindu religion, and declared that, to find God, one must search one’s own heart.
Religion did not consist of pamphlets or books; it consisted of looking into the human heart, and finding there the truths of God and immortality. “Whomsoever I like,” said the Vedas, “him I create a prophet,” and to be a prophet was all there was of religion.
The speaker brought his lecture to a close by giving an account of the Jains, who show remarkable kindness to dumb animals, and whose moral law is summed up in the words: “Not to injure others is the
Between the lectures that Swamiji gave at Association Hall on Monday, May 14.and Wednesday, May 16, he traveled some twenty-five miles north of Boston to fill an engagement in the city of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a great manufacturing center, where the huge and impressive Pacific Mills were located. His lecture there, delivered on the evening of May 15 under the auspices of the Woman’s Club, also dealt with the social and religious customs of India.
Returning to Boston Swamiji gave two lectures; the first, as has been seen, at three-thirty in the afternoon, and the second at eight in the evening at Harvard University. The following announcement for the latter appeared in the Harvard University Calendar for May 11, and also in the Harvard Crimson of the same date:
ADDRESS BY SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
On the evening of Wednesday, Maj 16, at 8 o’clock, in Sever 11, an address will be given under the auspices of the Harvard Union by SWAMI VIVEKANANDA, a Hindoo monk. The public are invited. Vivekananda is an adherent of the ancient Brahmin faith of India, and was for eight years the disciple of the sage Ram Krishna. He is well qualified, both by his attainments in native learning and by unusual gifts of eloquence, to expound to a western audience the beliefs of his countrymen. His addresses at the World s Parliament of Religions have attracted great attention.
On May 17 the Harvard Crimson ran a brief ievirw of Swamiji’s lecture as follows:
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, gave au address last evening in Sever Hall under the auspices of the Harvard Religious Union. The address was very interesting, the dear and eloquent voice of the speaker, and his low, earnest delivery making his words singularly impressive.
There are various sects and doctrines in India, said Vivekananda, some of which accept the theory of a personal God, and others which believe that God and the universe are one : but wlutever sect the Hindoo belongs to he docs not say that his is the only right belief, and that all others must be wrong. He believes that there are many ways of coming to God : that a man who is truly religious rises above the petty quarrels of sects or creed. In India if a man believes that he is a spirit, a soul, and not a body, then he is said to have religion and not till then.
To become a monk in India it is necessary to lose all thought of the body; to look upon other human beings as souls. So monks can never marry. Two vows
are taken when a man becomes a monk, poverty and , chastity. He is not allowed to receive or possess any money whatever. The first ceremony to be performed on joining the order is to be burnt in effigy, which is supposed to destroy once for all the old body, name and caste. The man then receives a new name, and is allowed to go forth and preach or travel, but must take no money for what he does.
As in New York, so in Boston, Swamiji no doubt made many new friends as well as renewed the friendships of those whom he had met earlier. Notable among these may have been Mrs. Ole Bull of Cambridge, who was to remain devoted to him for the rest of her life. We do not know exactly when or where Swamiji first met Mrs. Bull. If in Boston, then it may have been during his visit there in April, or, more probably, during that of May. (In any event he surely knew her in August of this vear, for, as is now known, she spent three weeks at Greenacre during that month. It may have been then, if not earlier, that Swamiji learned of her “fine big parlour” in her Cambridge home, which he described in a letter written to Isabelle McKindley on August 20.)
According to his letter of May 1 to Isabelle McKindley, in which he had said: “I will on my way to Chicago come to New York once more – give them a few hard raps and pocket the boodle and fly to Chicago,” Swamiji returned to New York after having completed his lectures in Boston. Unfortunately,
we have at present no record of those “hard raps” which he
delivered in New York toward the end of May; nor do we know much of his subsequent visit to Chicago, although to judge from his letters, both published and heretofore unpublished, he remained at the Hales’ throughout June.