Something About Annie Besant

By Fritz Kunz

Originally printed in the SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Kunz, Fritz. "Something About Annie Besant." Quest  94.5 (SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 2006):190-191.

The typescript for this article—three pages of onionskin joined with a tiny straight pin—arrived in the Theosophical Society Archives with decades of papers from the Kunz family. This particular article was composed between 1914 and 1917, when Fritz Kunz began a three-year term as principal of Ananda College, the Buddhist boys' school in Ceylon founded by H. S. Olcott. His friend, Basil Hodgson-Smith, was serving then as a lieutenant in the trenches of France. Kunz was frequently asked to contribute to and The Theosophist, writing on topics as perse as Shakespeare, the South Seas, Atlantis, and trade unionism. He knew Annie Besant very well, so it is natural that he was invited to write of her. In a footnote, he explained his choice of title: "I like to try to follow editorial desires; and this is exactly what I was asked to write about."

The teenaged Fritz first met Annie Besant at Adyar in 1903, when he and his English friend, Basil, worked as secretaries for C. W. Leadbeater on a world lecture tour. While at the Theosophical Society headquarters in Adyar from 1917 to 1922, Kunz served Mrs. Besant on the staff of her newspaper, New India, and assisted in her efforts for educational reform and Indian independence. Throughout his long career as a Theosophical lecturer and writer, Kunz related admiring affectionate accounts of "the Chief" describing her brilliance, her kindness, and her leadership. This article provides a glimpse of how he viewed her in the early days.

Theosophical Society - Fritz L. Kunz was an American lecturer, educator, editor, and writer associated with the Theosophical Society based in Adyar, India. As a young man he worked with Charles Webster Leadbeater and Annie Besant, and later he was married to Dora van Gelder Kunz, who served as President of the Theosophical Society in America.

It is well known that when Alexander the Great visited Diogenes he asked that worthy philosopher what he, the conqueror of the world, might do to please Diogenes. Whereupon the tub philosopher replied gruffly, without even looking up at the great Alexander: "Stand from between me and the sun!" One who writes about Mrs. Besant should feel as insignificant as Alexander must have felt on that occasion, for the best way to convey some understanding of Mrs. Besant is to remove one's little person from the scene and let the sun shine for itself. And of those who wish to gaze upon the light as it is I cheerfully relinquish any pretence holding the attention. But it sometimes happens that one likes to study the light after it has passed through some medium which analyses it into itself components, even if that medium happens to be. a very imperfect refractor; it is for them I write.

A disingenius youthful admirer of Mrs. Besant—I should more properly use the Greek term, lover—once innocently revealed in one sentence a most significant fact with regard to her. He was to consult her upon some points which, to his young mind, seemed weighty. When he returned from the interview he said in effect: "Before I come into in the presence of the President I am filled with ideas that seem to me most important, and when I find myself before her these things dwindle into nothing and I see them to be of no moment; and then I think that I have a petty mind."

Now I do not quote this lad to be patronizing, for I find the same thing within myself! Our minds, I have no doubt, are charged with notions that are galvanized into a semblance of vastness and importance by a considerable contribution of egotism and self-importance. We think our ideas are great because we conceived them; we bustle with mental importance; we think that we must lay these great conceptions before someone able to appreciate them; we— I might say here "I"—have a lurking idea somewhere in a dark corner of what I am pleased to call my intellect that Mrs. Besant will be interested in my ideas. And then, in the mere presence of that kind lady these splendid ideas shrivel away, crumble into dust; and there I stand, denuded of that glorious fabric of intellections, insignificant, and wondering at my satisfaction with what I now see to be inventions that were one half pompous self-esteem. My only consolation is that I have got so far as to be able to recognize the truth even at that late stage!

I say "kind lady" with great deliberation, because I want to make emphatic the point that this curious mental denudation has no connection with fear. The young man I mention is as her son in her affections and, for myself, I try to be not far behind him. It is merely that in the presence of a mind that is ablaze with Truth our half-dark minds are momentarily searchingly. illuminated, and we see that what we thought fine, scintillating fabrics are, after all, only dusty cobwebs.

Now and then it happens, however, that one does bring to her an admirable idea in embryo. And then the result. is equally sure and the effect quite as instructive in a different manner. For she throws upon the point the same torrent of true thinking; and the idea suddenly glitters forth in one's mind like a star, and throws off all sorts of new lights from unsuspected facets, as a diamond that is drawn from a dark box out into the light. And then one feels rather pleased with himself—until he carries his diamond away from the sunlight and finds that it does not glow so brilliantly, and that, after all, it was the sunlight that flashed and not the diamond!

When I was very much younger, and before I had come to India, I had a sort of ide fixe that Mrs. Besant exaggerated the importance of India in the scheme of things—(I claim a lenient judgment for myself on the ground of my extreme youth; at any rate, so I thought). And then, about ten years ago, on a certain memorable day I saw Mrs. Besant for the first time—and in India. It was in the octagonal room at Adyar, where I. was with Mr. Leadbeater and Mr. (now Lieutenant) Basil Hodgson-Smith. Mrs. Besant came over to see them there for a moment about some arrangements in our tour. We had all seated ourselves again after her appearance; behind her chair stood one or two Indian gentlemen— I forget who they were and it doesn't matter. I had a very excusable curiosity as to that great person which was before me; I fear that I stared rather rudely. There was mention of my name—that I would make out the timetable for the tour, I believe—and suddenly I found myself looking, not upon Mrs. Besant, that celebrated and interesting lady, but upon an old, old friend. I remember a sudden, radiant smile, incredibly seeing eyes—it was as if, upon the heels of a long and torrential rain there had suddenly blazed out the whole light of the sun as when one sees far, far into the sky and feels for a time, uplifted, freed. And in a moment—I quite understand that this is not logical; but I'm not talking about logic or anything so merely Aristotelian—I understood the inner truth about India; and in ratio to my understanding I saw my old notions as absurd. And as intuitions are only good when put into action, I too do my little mite with my little might for that India that she sees, not alone the "historical" India of parched or steaming plains or fertile river valleys, the India of the millions; but that other India of the Rishi of green hills, that supra-historic India that sings its way through the Himalayas, that India of far off days and forgotten Powers that now, once more, springs into new being.

At this stage I am reminded that my subject is Mrs. Besant, and not myself and not India. The point is well taken, although we should remember that, for the time at least, India and Mrs. Besant are elements that cannot be considered separately. However, let me heed the interruption to this extent; we shall look a little into the second half of our subject, P. T. S.

I have a conceit that T. S. means not only Theosophical Society but also The Service, and, more specifically, Their Service; that we are the body of picked people who serve men and Supermen; that just as the Indian Civil Service is a body of picked men whose business is to be the servants of India, both the lowly and the lordly, so it is our business to serve humanity, those men beneath us and those above us. Truly performed, this is a grand and an arduous task. In simple physical terms it means toil, in the psychic world it means stress; but in the spiritual and super-spiritual worlds it means unfoldment and abiding joy. For in the labour and the strain that comes to those who serve lesser men is at the same time the source of inspiration from the greatest Men; to serve the one is to serve the Other.

And from this it follows that the President of the Theosophical Society is the Head of The Service which labours for men and under the direction of the Masters of men. And we Fellows of The Service recognize, even if we cannot fully comprehend, the burden that this post brings with it, the duty of being Perfectly Their Servant, the hidden meaning in the letters P. T. S. On one day at least in the year we weigh this fact; we take stock of ourselves; we try to see how we can measure a little more closely to the stature of our Chief. And this, I think, is the opportunity that the first day of October brings to us.


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