This book, first published in 1893, contains a candid description of the first forty-two years of Annie Besant’s life: a relatively happy childhood, an unfortunate marriage, followed by domestic, social, religious and political trials and tribulations. It reveals her remarkable courage and a strong sense of social justice.
She meant her autobiography to be a source of encouragement for others: since all of us have the same anxieties, the same griefs . . . the same desire for knowledge, it may well be that the story of one may help all, and that the tale of one soul that went out alone into the darkness . . . that struggled through the Storm and on the other side found Peace, may bring some ray of light and peace into the darkness and the storm of other lives’.
In the preface to the third impression of the boot she gives an overall view of her life and work during the following nineteen years of her life (1889—1908).
This autobiography is a shining example of the unlimited potential of one who is convinced of his or her goal.
NINETEEN years have passed away since I joined the Theosophical Society, as recorded at the close of this book, and during these nineteen years I have been lecturing and writing on its behalf, and have travelled pretty well all over the world in its service. Most European countries have been visited, and branches of the Society founded in each; France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, have all listened willingly to the message of Theosophy, and groups of members are to he found in most of the large towns hi all of them. England, Scotland and Ireland, naturally, have had the lion’s share of this propaganda work in Europe, and I regard the great change which has come over English thought — the turning away from materialism and the revival of mysticism - as due to that great wave of spiritual life of which the Theosophical Society is the crest.
To America I have travelled many times, lecturing in the larger cities and to Australia and New Zealand the same work has led me. Most of all has India been the field of labour since I first went thither in 1893. ‘The Indian work is, first of all, the revival, strengthening and uplifting of the ancient religions — Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and, in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Burma (Myanmar), Buddhism. The success with which this has
been accomplished by the Theosophical Society is acknowledged on all sides, friendly and hostile, and this revival of the old faiths has brought with it a new self- respect, a pride in the past, a belief in the future, and, as an inevitable result a great wave of patriotic life, the beginning of the rebuilding of a nation. The work, in the second place, has been educational, and the note of this has been the wedding of Western education with Eastern religion and Eastern ethics, and the carrying on of colleges and schools under the control of Indians, instead of under the control of Government or of missionaries — the sole educationists until the Theosophical Society stepped into the field. In Ceylon, three colleges and over two hundred schools are flourishing under the care of Buddhist Theosophists. In India, two colleges and a growing number of schools, both for boys and girls, are being directed by Hindu Theosophists. Five free schools in Madras (Chennai) are being maintained for the pariah population, and are crowded with hitherto neglected children.
At Adyar, near Madras, where are the headquarters of the Society, an Oriental Library was raised, and it contains some unique Sanskrit and Pali MSS, as well as a great collection of palm-leaf manuscripts and other valuable books.
My Indian work, from 1893 to 1907, was carried on in close collaboration with the President-founder of the Theosophical Society, Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, the colleague of our much-revered H. P. Blavatsky. To his initiative and continued support were due the wide spreading Buddhist work in Ceylon, the raising of the Adyar Headquarters, the Oriental Library and the pariah schools, as well as the pioneer work of arousing
Hindus and Zoroastrians to the realization of the priceless treasures hidden in the sacred books, on which they were allowing the dust to gather. When he passed away, in February 1907, he left a well- organized and worldwide movement capable of indefinite extension along the lines so wisely planned and laid. At his death, by his Master’s wish, on his nomination and the Society’s ratification, I succeeded to the Presidency of the Society.
It is right that I should here place on record the fact that during these nineteen years of strenuous work all over the world, Theosophy has been to me an ever- increasing strength, peace, and joy. Never once, for a single instant has my faith in it faltered, nor the slightest cloud of distrust flitted across my sky. Each year has added something to knowledge, some verification of ‘things heard’, some proof of what had been theory. Life has grown more and more intelligible; death a negligible incident in an ever-widening life. My gratitude to H. P. Blavatsky is no longer the warm but half-blind faith of the pupil in the teacher, but the glad thanks to one who gave knowledge which experience has verified, and an ever-increasing recognition of the priceless value of the gift she gave. When, in future days, a world rejoicing in a Universal Religion shall count over the great souls who laid thereof the foundation, not the least of those Master- Builders will be revered as H. P. Blavatsky.
IT is a difficult thing to tell the story of a life, and yet more difficult when that life is one’s own. At the best, the telling has a savour of vanity, and the only excuse for the proceeding is that the life, being an average one, reflects many others, and in troublous times like ours may give the experience of many rather than of one. And so the autobiographer does his work because he thinks that, at the cost of some unpleasantness to himself, he may throw light on some of the typical problems that are vexing the souls of his contemporaries, and perchance may stretch out a helping hand to some brother who is struggling in the darkness, and so bring him cheer when despair has him in its grip. Since all of us, men and women of this restless and eager generation surrounded by forces we dimly see but cannot as yet understand, discontented with old ideas and hail afraid of new, greedy for the material results of the knowledge brought us by Science but looking askance at her agnosticism as regards the soul, fearful of superstition but still more fearful of atheism, turning from the husks of outgrown creeds but filled with desperate hunger f or spiritual ideals — since all of us have the same anxieties, the same griefs, the same yearning hopes, the same passionate desire for knowledge, it may well be that the story of one may help all, and that the tale of one soul that went out alone into the darkness an on the other side found light, that struggled through the Strom and on the other side found peace, may bring some ray of light and of peace into the darkness and the storm of other lives.
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