Letters written from New York
To Miss Josephine MacLeod**
21 W. 34TH ST.,
November 8 , 1899.
Experiences are gathering a bit thick round you. I am sure they will lift many a veil more.
Mr. Leggett told me of your phonograph. I told him to get a few cylinders — I talk in them through somebody’s phonograph and send them to Joe — to which he replied that he could buy one, because “I always do what Joe asks me to do.” I am glad there is so much of hidden poetry in his nature.
I am going today to live with the Guernseys as the doctor wants to watch me and cure me. . . . Doctor Guernsey, after examining other things, was feeling my pulse, when suddenly Landsberg (whom they had forbidden the house) got in and retreated immediately after seeing me. Dr. Guernsey burst out laughing and declared he would have paid that man for coming just then, for he was then sure of his diagnosis of my case. The pulse before was so regular, but just at the sight of Landsberg it almost stopped from emotion. It is sure only a case of nervousness. He also advises me strongly to go on with Doctor Helmer’s treatment. He thinks Helmer will do me a world of good, and that is what I need now. Is not he broad?
I expect to see “the sacred cow”* today in town. I will be in New York a few days more. Helmer wants me to take three treatments a week for four weeks, then two a week for four more, and I will be all right. In case I go to Boston, he recommends me to a very good ostad (expert) there whom he would advise on the matter.
I said a few kind words to Landsberg and went upstairs to Mother Guernsey to save poor Landsberg from embarrassment.
Ever yours in the Lord,
** This letter is misdated in the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda as June 1895. It was actually penned on the 8th of November 1899.
21 West 34th Street,
10th November 1899.
My dear Christina,
I received your letter just now. I am now in New York. Dr. [Egbert] Guernsey analysed my urine yesterday, and there was no sugar o r albumen in it. So my kidneys are all right, at least at present. The heart is only nervous, requires calming!–some cheer ful company and good, loving friends and quiet. The only difficulty is the dyspepsia, and that is the evil. For instance, I am all right in the morning and can walk miles, but in the evening it is impossible to walk after a meal–the gas–that depends entirely up on food, does it not? I ought to try the Battle Creek food. If I come to Detroit, there will be quiet and Battle Creek food for me .
But if you come to Cambridge with all the instructions of the Battle Creek food, I will have it prepared there; or, between you and me, we will cook it. I am a good hand at that. You don’t know a thing about cooking. Well, you may help in cleaning the plates etc. I always get money when I need it badly. “Mother” always see s to that. So, no danger on that head. I am not in the least danger of life, the Doctors agree–only if this dyspepsia goes away. And that is “food”, “food”, “food”, and no worry. Oh, what a worry I have had! Say we go somewhere else and make a little party and keep house ourselves. In Cambridge, Mrs. Bull has a quiet separate place–her studio house. You can have rooms there. I wish you to know Mrs. Bull. She is a saint, a real saint, if ever there was one. Wait for my next letter. I will write today again, or tomorrow after seeing Mrs. Bull.
Ever yours in the Lord,
C/o Dr. E. Guernsey,
180 West 59th Street,
12th November 1899.
Mrs. Bull has gone to Boston without seeing me. I am with the Guernseys. All today laid up with colds.
Oh, these nasty colds. The doctor here declares my case as entire ly one of nervous exhaustion. Even the dyspepsia is entirely nervous.
I will be a few days yet here, and then I don’t know where I go. I have a great mind to try health food. As for you, write unreservedly where you [would] like me to be. If you think it bes t for me to come to Detroit, write or wire on receipt of this. I will come immediately. Only difficulty is now the dyspepsia.
With love to Mrs. Funkey [Funke],
Ever yours with blessings,
P.S. If Cambridge is best, say that immediately.
180 W. 59,
C/o E. Guernsey, M.D.,
12 November 1899
Dear Mrs. Bull–
I am laid up with a bad cold. The clothes are not ready–
they will be next week. I don’t know what my next step will be. D r. Guernsey is very kind. Several Doctors have examined me and no ne could detect any organic disease.
Even the kidney complications for the present have disappeared.
Well, the whole thing is then dyspepsia. I want ever so much to t ry Battle Creek food. There is a restaurant which cooks only Batt le Creek food. Do you think it should be best for me to try it ju st now? If so, I go to Detroit. In that case, send me my terracotta, thick cashmere coat.
Ever yours in the Lord,
Had three treatments already from Helmer. Going to take some next week. None can do anything for this “wind”. That is why dieting should be tried at any cost.
15th Nov., 1899.
. . . On the whole I don’t think there is any cause for anxiety about my body. This sort of nervous body is just the instrument to play great music at times and at times to moan in darkness.
C/o E. Guernsey, M.D.,
The Madrid, 180 W. 59,
15th November, 1899.
My Dear Mrs. Bull,
After all I decide to come to Cambridge just now. I must finish the stories I began. The first one I don’t think was given back to me by Margo.
My clothes will be ready the day after tomorrow, and then I shall be ready to start; only my fear is, it will be for the whole winter a place for becoming nervous and not for quieting of nerves, with constant parties and lectures. Well, perhaps you can give me a room somewhere, where I can hide myself from all the goings on in the place. Again I am so nervous of going to a place where indirectly the Indian Math will be. The very name of these Math people is enough to frighten me. And they are determined to kill with these letters etc.
Anyhow, I come as soon as I have my clothes–this week. You need not come to New York for my sake. If you have business of your own, that is another matter. I had a very kind invitation from Mrs. Wheeler of Montclair. Before I start for Boston, I will have a turn-in in Montclair for a few hours at least.
I am much better and am all right; nothing the matter with me except my worry, and now I am sure to throw that all overboard.
Only one thing I want–and I am afraid I cannot get it of you–there should be no communication about me in your letters to India even indirect. I want to hide for a time or for all time. How I curse the day that brought me celebrity!
With all love,
1 EAST 39 ST., NEW YORK,
20th November, 1899.
MY DEAR MARY,
I start tomorrow most probably for California. On my way I would stop for a day or two in Chicago. I send a wire to you when I start. Send somebody to the station, as I never was so bad as now in finding my way in and out.
Ever your brother,
(Translated from Bengali.)
20th November, 1899.
MY DEAR RAKHAL,
Got some news from Sharat’s letter. . . . Get experience while still there is a chance; I am not concerned whether you win or lose. . . . I have no disease now. Again. . . . I am going to tour from place to place. There is no reason for anxiety, be fearless. Everything will fly away before you; only don’t be disobedient, and all success will be yours. . . . Victory to Kâli! Victory to the Mother! Victory to Kali! Wâh Guru, Wah Guru ki Fateh (Victory unto the Guru)!
. . . Really, there is no greater sin than cowardice; cowards are never saved — that is sure. I can stand everything else but not that. Can I have any dealings with one who will not give that up? . . . If one gets one blow, on must return ten with redoubled fury. . . . Then only one is a man. . . . The coward is an object to be pitied.
I bless you all; today, on this day sacred to the Divine Mother, on this night, may the Mother dance in your hearts, and bring infinite strength to your arms. Victory to Kali! Victory to Kali! Mother will certainly come down — and with great strength will bring all victory, world victory. Mother is coming, what dear? Whom to fear? Victory to Kali! At the tread of each one of you the earth will tremble. . . . Victory to Kali! Again onward, forward! Wah Guru! Victory to the Mother! Kali! Kali! Kali! Disease, sorrow, danger, weakness — all these have departed from you all. All victory, all good fortune, all prosperity yours. Fear not! Fear not! The threat of calamity is vanishing, fear not! Victory to Kali! Victory to Kali!
PS. I am the servant of the Mother, you are all servants of the Mother — what destruction, what fear is there for us? Don’t allow egoism to enter your minds, and let love never depart from your hearts. What destruction can touch you? Fear not. Victory to Kali! Victory to Kali!
21 West 34th Street,
21st November 1899.
My dear Christina,
Circumstances have so fallen that I have to start for California tomorrow. It is for my physical benefit too; as the doctor says, I had better be off where the severe winter of the North cannot reach.
Well, thus my plans are made and marred. Anyway–come over to Cambridge when you feel like it. Mrs. Bull will only be too happy to do anything for you she can.
I hope to stop in Detroit on my way back. The Lord’s will–as we say.
Ever yours in the Lord,
21 WEST 34 ST.,
21st November, 1899.
MY DEAR BRAHMANANDA,
The accounts are all right. I have handed them over to Mrs. Bull who has taken charge of reporting the different parts of the accounts to different donors. Never mind what I have said in previous harsh letters. They would do you good. Firstly, they will make you business-like in the future to keep regular and clear accounts and get the brethren into it. Secondly, if these scolding don’t make you brave, I shall have no more hopes of you. I want to see you die even, but you must make a fight. Die in obeying commands like a soldier, and go to Nirvana, but no cowardice.
It is necessary that I must disappear for some time. Let not anyone write me or seek me during that time, it is absolutely necessary for my health. I am only nervous, that is all, nothing more.
All blessings follow you. Never mind my harshness. You know the heart always, whatever the lips say. All blessings on you. For the last year or so I have not been in my senses at all. I do not know why. I had to pass through this hell — and I have. I am much better — well, in fact. Lord help you all. I am going to the Himalayas soon to retire for ever. My work is done.
Ever yours in the Lord,
PS. Mrs. Bull sends her love.
C/O F. H. LEGGETT,
21 WEST THIRTY-FOURTH STREET
MY DEAR STURDY,
This is not to defend my conduct. Words cannot wipe off the evils I have done, nor any censor stop from working the good deeds, if any.
For the last few months I have been hearing so much of the luxuries I was given to enjoy by the people of the West — luxuries which the hypocrite myself has been enjoying, although preaching renunciation all the while: luxuries, the enjoyment of which has been the great stumbling-block in my way, in England at least. I nearly hypnotised myself into the belief that there has at least been a little oasis in the dreary desert of my life, a little spot of light in one whole life of misery and gloom; one moment of relaxation in a life of hard work and harder curses — even that oasis, that spot, that moment was only one of sense-enjoyment!!
I was glad, I blessed a hundred times a day those that had helped me to get it, when, lo, your last letter comes like a thunderclap, and the dream is vanished. I begin to disbelieve your criticisms — have little faith left in all this talk of luxuries and enjoyments and other visions memory calls up. These I state. Hope you will send it round to friends, if you think fit, and correct me where I am wrong.
I remember your place at Reading, where I was fed with boiled cabbage and potatoes and boiled rice and boiled lentils, three times a day, with your wife’s curses for sauce all the time. I do not remember your giving me any cigar to smoke — shilling or penny ones. Nor do I remember myself as complaining of either the food or your wife’s incessant curses, though I lived as a thief, shaking through fear all the time, and working every day for you.
The next memory is of the house on St. George’s Road — you and Miss Muller at the head. My poor brother was ill there and Miss Müller drove him away. There too I don’t remember to have had any luxuries as to food or drink or bed or even the room given to me.
The next was Miss Müller’s place. Though she has been very kind to me, I was living on nuts and fruits. The next memory is that of the black hole of London where I had to work almost day and night and cook the meals oft-times for five or six, and most nights with a bite of bread and butter.
I remember Mrs. Sturdy giving me a dinner and a night’s lodging in her place, and then the next day criticising the black savage — so dirty and smoking all over the house.
With the exception of Capt. and Mrs. Sevier, I do not remember even one piece of rag as big as a handkerchief I got from England. On the other hand, the incessant demand on my body and mind in England is the cause of my breakdown in health. This was all you English people gave me, whilst working me to death; and now I am cursed for the luxuries I lived in!! Whosoever of you have given me a coat? Whosoever a cigar? Whosoever a bit of fish or flesh? Whosoever of you dare say I asked food or drink or smoke or dress or money from you? Ask, Sturdy, ask for God’s sake, ask your friends, and first ask your own “God within who never sleeps.”
You have given me money for my work. Every penny of it is there. Before your eyes I sent my brother away, perhaps to his death; and I would not give him a farthing of the money which was not my private property.
On the other hand, I remember in England Capt. and Mrs. Sevier, who have clad me when I was cold, nursed me better than my own mother would have, borne with me in my weakness, my trials; and they have nothing but blessings for me. And that Mrs. Sevier, because she did not care for honours, has the worship of thousands today; and when she is dead millions will remember her as one of the great benefactresses of the poor Indians. And they never cursed me for my luxuries, though they are ready to give me luxuries, if I need or wish.
I need not tell you of Mrs. Bull, Miss MacLeod, Mr. and Mrs. Leggett. You know their love and kindness for me; and Mrs. Bull and Miss MacLeod have been to our country, moved and lived with us as no foreigner ever did, roughing it all, and they do not ever curse me and my luxuries either; they will be only too glad to have me eat well and smoke dollar cigars if I wish. And there Leggetts and Bulls were the people whose bread whose money bought my smokes and several times paid my rent, whilst I was killing myself for your people, when you were taking my pound of flesh for the dirty hole and starvation and reserving all this accusation of luxury.
“The clouds of autumn make great noise but send no rain;
The clouds of the rainy season without a word flood the earth.”
See Sturdy, those that have helped or are still helping have no criticism, no curses: it is only those who do nothing, who only come to grind their own axes, that curse, that criticise. That such worthless, heartless, selfish, rubbish criticise, is the greatest blessing that can come to me. I want nothing so much in life as to be miles off from these extremely selfish axe-grinders.
Talking of luxuries! Take these critics up one after the other — It is all flesh, all flesh and no spirit anywhere. Thank God, they come out sooner or later in their true colours. And you advise me to regulate my conduct, my work, according to the desires of such heartless, selfish persons, and are at your wit’s end because I do not!
As to my Gurubhais (brother-disciples), they do nothing but what I insist on their doing. If they have shown any selfishness anywhere, that is because of my ordering them, not what they would do themselves.
Would you like your children put into that dark hole you got for me in London, made to work to death, and almost starved all the time? Would Mrs. Sturdy like that? They are Sannyasins, and that means, no Sannyasin should unnecessarily throw away his life or undertake unnecessary hardship.
In undergoing all this hardship in the West we have been only breaking the rules of Sannyasa. They are my brothers, my children. I do not want them to die in holes for my sake. I don’t, by all that is good and true I don’t, want them starved and worked and cursed for all their pains.
A word more. I shall be very glad if you can point out to me where I have preached torturing the flesh. As for the Shâstras (scriptures), I shall be only too glad if a Shâstri (Pundit) dares oppose us with the rules of life laid down for Sannyasins and Paramahamsas.
Well, Sturdy, my heart aches. I understand it all. I know what you are in — you are in the clutches of people who want to use you. I don’t mean your wife. She is too simple to be dangerous. But, my poor boy, you have got the flesh-smell — a little money — and vultures are around. Such is life.
You said a lot about ancient India. That India still lives, Sturdy, is not dead, and that living India dares even today to deliver her message without fear or favour of the rich, without fear of anybody’s opinion, either in the land where her feet are in chains or in the very face of those who hold the end of the chain, her rulers. That India still lives, Sturdy, India of undying love, of everlasting faithfulness, the unchangeable, not only in manners and customs, but also in love, in faith, in friendship. And I, the least of that India’s children, love you, Sturdy, with Indian love, and would any day give up a thousand bodies to help you out of this delusion.