Fyodorova O - Elena Petrovna and her education

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Elena Petrovna and her education

by Olga Fyodorova
Published in "Modern Theosophical Thought", 2018-1 (5)


Блаватская ЕП - 1878.jpg

For better understanding a noble soul of Elena[1] Petrovna Blavatsky (Blavatskaya), one must know the era and the environment in which she grew up and was brought up. She belonged to the descendants of noble families, both her father's and her mother's. It was the time when the nobles were the most enlightened people in Russia. In 1764, Catherine II issued a decree on the establishment of the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens with a view to "creating a new breed of people." And very few people know that the conditions for girls of noble families were almost Spartan. Future secular ladies had a very strict schedule: they got up at six in the morning and had up to 8 lessons every day. Young pupils walked in ranks for prayer and for a walk. For the sake of tempering bodies, the temperature in the bedrooms did not exceed 16 degrees, they slept on hard beds and washed with cold water... The main subjects that girls studied were all kinds of art, the word of God, languages and natural sciences. There were physical education classes with gymnastics and dancing... The main goal of education was not to teach, but to bring up. The cleverness was not encouraged, the noble maiden should be modest, be able to behave with dignity, possess impeccable manners and taste.

If daughters from noble families were not sent to the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens for education, they were taught at home and teachers and governesses from abroad were invited for them. Obligatory for a young noblewoman was the acquisition of playing skills on any instrument, drawing, singing, the ability to dance gracefully. Also the knowledge of French, English or German was a must. Great attention was paid to the "ability to behave" in society.

Nobility in the right understanding is a modest decent behavior, responsibility for one's actions and ultimate honesty in everything. The Russian nobility of the 19 century differed in essence from the Western, prim nobility. Noblemen of that time, in general, loved national culture and the common people. There are many examples of such attitude in domestic classical literature. After Pushkin, Dahl, Tolstoy and Nekrasov, there were certainly more of such examples, but before them, since Peter 1, unfortunately, there was an admiration for the west and the nobles preferred to communicate among themselves in French, considering the native language as one of the lower classes.

Russian nobles can’t be called Europeans. Elena Petrovna wrote about herself as a half-Asian person. The Russians are more Eastern idealists than Western materialists.

Let’s recall the description of the character of a Russian woman in N.A. Nekrasov’s poem "Frost, Red Nose":

In game even horseman can’t reach her,
In trouble she’ll rescue, not quail,
The horse she will stop at a gallop,
In burning hut get in, not fail.

All Russians know the heroic deed of noblewomen who followed their Decembrist[2] husbands into the Siberian exile. Therefore, we are not surprised at Elena Petrovna's act of exchanging a first class ticket for a third-class ticket to a steamer sailing to America for the sake of a poor emigrant woman with children. But is it possible to compare the journey across the ocean in a hold of the ship with the hardships of wandering in different countries, participation in battles in Garibaldi's army and similar events?

In connection with this act, Elena Petrovna was called a person having a sophisticated nature. Yes, she was an aristocratic lady, a highly gifted person who had a good education. This feature was noticed by Charles Johnson in his article "Helena Petrovna Blavatsky":

“The old Lady said goodbye to me in her graceful aristocratic manner, absorbed into her flesh and blood from childhood."

But she was not a "pampered" young lady. Since childhood, she was able to ride a horse astride, a la Cossack. Elena Petrovna was not afraid of difficulties, as W. Kingsland wrote about her years of wandering or Wanderjahre:

“Her endeavour to cross into Tibet was a failure, which Mme. Blavatsky attributed to the difficulties placed in her way by the British Resident in Nepal. There were doubtless occult reasons at that time why she did not find the physical locality of the Masters, since she did afterwards do so. She therefore returned South, went to Java and Singapore, and from thence to England in 1853. England at that time, however, was no place for a patriotic Russian subject— and Mme. Blavatsky was always intensely patriotic, notwithstanding that she afterwards became a naturalized American citizen—and at the end of 1853 she again went over to America, this time to New York, to Chicago, then merely an infant City, and from thence to the far West, across the Rocky Mountains by caravan, and so to San Francisco. She remained in America about two years, and then once more set sail for India via Japan and the Straits, reaching Calcutta some time at the end of 1855, or perhaps early in 1856”.

And this is only one part of her wanderings. But the deprivation of traveling was not burdensome to her. There were the constant attacks and the slandered honest name that really tormented her. In World’s history, there are many examples of defending one’s point of honour by noblemen or prominent personalities. However, Elena Petrovna had to humble herself for the sake of the great mission entrusted to her.

Now, the education that Elena Petrovna received in her childhood can be well illustrated by some fragments from her sister's book, Vera Zhelikhovskaya, "My sister Elena Blavatskaya":

"Finally, tired of running, we settled down to rest on the carpet. Dasha first broke the silence. "How the gentlemen are happy, truly!" - she announced, throwing her thick, light braids over her shoulders and fanning her blushing face with all five fingers. – When they want they sleep! Want they play! Want they eat! .. There is no need to die!

- Do not you play, do not sleep and do not eat? I asked.

- When I’m given food I eat, and sleep, and when not, I don’t! And you always can eat: you are a young lady! ..

- I would like to be a lady! - Dunya said slowly.

- I say! Who would not? .. Would we be with you young ladies, it would be good for us to live in the world! ..

- Yes! .. It would not be necessary to learn knitting stockings, - Dunya interrupted again.

"What a stocking there be!" We’ll be playing and eating all the time!.

"Well, your stocking is nothing!" - I said. - We are in a worse situation: we need to learn so much! And read, and write, and speak French, and play the piano."

"But Lelya often went with the adults to the theatre, which I was very jealous of. Listening to the stories of Nadya and Lelya, their endless conversations and laughter at what was seen and heard in the theatre, it seemed to me that there must be a great fun!"

"Towards evening, the same day we arrived in a pretty little Russian village, where we had to stay long ... We studied diligently every day; especially Lelya was very seriously engaged with the governess in English, and French and much more with Antonia. Besides, three times a week, a music teacher came to her from somewhere. Despite many lessons, Lelya still found time to be naughty, so she was a nimble girl!"

"You did assure me before that you would never speak French. Do you remember how I assured you that I do not know Russian? .. You were capricious, saying that you would never understand me and you would not answer; and I argued that very soon you would learn. Who was right? .. Then you were such a little fool to believe that I immediately forgot the Russian language. Remember?

- Yes, how can I forget! And how I was surprised when you read to us Russian fairy tales! .. I was quite sure that you did not even forget how to read, but did not understand anything. "Do you see how helpful was my cunning? .. Now there is no need to deceive you any more: you yourself do not speak to me in another way like in French." - Yes, in French something is much easier! - Well, thank God, that is much easier. In Russian you can speak with everyone, but with me and with Miss you need to keep the Russian language aside."

"They called Lelya, and she instantly told the Englishwoman what we were talking about... However, by the end of the summer I already could chat in English with "miss" and with my sister.

My mother was very happy with our success, and my father said that unfortunately we did not learn his native German language, instead of my beloved mother's English."

"However, Lelya, who easily learnt foreign languages, volunteered to study German and began to have lessons with Antonia three times a week. By autumn she already could understand a lot and read quite freely. Papa praised her and jokingly called her "a worthy heiress of her glorious ancestors, the German knights Hahn-Hahn von der Rother Hahn, who never knew another language, except German ..."

Elena Petrovna’s grandmother Fadeeva Elena Pavlovna spend much time with her grandchildren, who loved and respected her very much. She taught them many things and skills.

"You can perfectly play the piano, draw, how many different skills you have! .. You can embroid with silks, knit lace, glue different things from cardboard and shells! Make such lovely flowers! .. Lord! And you know that much! ..You can teach us everything: both history and geography! How many languages you can speak! You collect antiquities, coins... My God, My God! What do not you know!.. My grandmother, Elena Pavlovna Fadeeva, was such a wonderful woman, such women are few in the world. She was very fond of serious studies and was such a scientist that everyone was amazed at her profound knowledge. But even better sciences and everything in the world she loved her family, especially us, her grandchildren."

Elena Petrovna since the very childhood had this high example of a noble lady in the person of her grandmother Elena Pavlovna. Here are the memories about her grandmother:

"What I wanted most often is to quietly make my way up to the rooms of my grandmother. If I couldn’t not find her in the bedroom at some needlework, then I knew she was in her study drawing flowers or doing something "serious"... In addition to all the embroideries, knitting, weaving, the grandmother was able to do a lot of peculiar things. She made flowers from satin, velvet and various fabrics; she glued from cardboard, shells, colored and gold paper, from broken mirror glass, from beads and variegated sunflower seeds such wonderful things, just a miracle! She was weaving books. She used to write something, draw herself in the book and also rewrite the book... But best of all she drew flowers. We, the children, were sure that there was no such a skill in the world that my grandmother did not have!”

The skill to make flowers and sew came in handy to Elena Petrovna in those days when she had to make a living. Referring to Mme. Blavatsky's coming to America, her close associate H. S. Olcott recalls in his book "Old Diary Leaves" the following facts:

“She told me she had taken lodgings in one of the poorest quarters in New York —Madison Street and supported herself by making cravats or artificial flowers —I forget which now—for a kind-hearted Hebrew shop-keeper. She always spoke to me with gratitude about this little man”.

But the education of young Elena was not limited to home lessons. The nobles used to send their children to study abroad, if not to universities, then at least to take private lessons from well-known professionals. In the same book Col. Olcott tells us about HPB’s musical talent and education:

“When his daughter was thirteen he had taken her for a visit to England and to Paris. That was her first journey abroad, and she appears to have been more docile in his hands than with anyone else. One object in taking her abroad was to procure for her good music lessons, as she showed great natural talent for music. She had some lessons from Moscheles[3], and later on is supposed to have played at concerts in various towns in Europe. I well remember on one occasion, on a visit by her to my house in London in 1889, she sat down at the piano and played Schubert's Erl-König, to my great surprise and delight, as I had never even heard that she had ever been a pianist”.

About the same episode HPB wrote to A. P. Sinnett:

“In 1845 father brought me to London to take a few lessons of music. Took a few later also—from old Moscheles. Lived with him somewhere near Pimlico—but even to this I would not swear. Went to Bath with him, remained a whole week, heard nothing but bell-ringing in the churches all day. Wanted to go on horseback astride in my Cossack way ; he would not let me and I made a row I remember and got sick with a fit of hysterics. He blessed his stars when we went home ; travelled two or three months through France, Germany and Russia.”

Colonel Olcott also wrote:

“She was a splendid pianist, playing with a touch and expression that were simply superb. Her hands were models—ideal and actual—for a sculptor and never seen to such advantage as when flying over the keyboard to find its magical melodies. She was a pupil of Moscheles, and when in London as a young girl, with her father, played at a charity concert with Madame Clara Schumann and Madame Arabella Goddard in a piece of Schumann’s for three pianos. During the time of our relationship she played scarcely at all. Once a cottage piano was bought and she played on it for a few weeks, but then it remained closed ever after until sold, and served as a double book-shelf. There were times when she was occupied by one of the Mahâtmas, when her playing was indescribably grand. She would sit in the dusk sometimes, with nobody else in the room beside myself, and strike from the sweet-toned instrument improvisations that might well make one fancy he was listening to the Gandharvas, or heavenly choristers. It was the harmony of heaven”.

Concerning the lessons with Mosheles, Jean Overto Fuller writes in his book "Blavatsky and Her Teachers" (1988):

"While the Shumnans were in Russia, Colonel Gan persuaded Madame Schumann to hear his small daughter play, and tell him if she had talent. He was told Helena had so much talent that Madame Schumann would be prepared to recommend her to Mosheles, who had been her own teacher. Mosheles spent much of his "London period" in Bath. As Helena and Arabella were much of an age, it may have struck the aging virtuoso, that the two little girls would looked pretty playing a duet."

Countess K. Wachtmeister in her book "H P. Blavatsky and "Secret Doctrine" tells about the favorite music of Elena Petrovna:

“In the carriage between Enghien and Paris H.P.B. was silent and distrait. She confessed to being tired, and we spoke but little, and upon the most commonplace subjects. Once, after a long pause, she told me that she distinctly heard the music of " Guillaume Tell," and remarked that this opera was one of her favourites. It was not the hour for opera and my curiosity was piqued. Making inquiries afterwards, I found that the same air from " Guillaume Tell " was in fact being per- formed at a concert in the Champs Elysees at the very time when she told me that she heard it. Whether these actual tones reached her ears while her senses were in a state of hypersesthesia, or whether she caught up the melody from the " Astral Light " I do not know, but I have since often teen able to verify that she could at times hear what was taking place at a distance”.

Of all the above quotes, we can conclude that Elena Petrovna possessed amazing musical abilities and professional knowledge. More than once in her works she talks about music from an esoteric point of view. For example:

“Ahrens, when speaking of the letters as arranged in the Hebrew sacred scrolls, and remaking that they were musical notes, had probably never studied Aryan Hindu music. In the Sanskrit language letters are continually arranged in the sacred Ollas so that they may become musical notes. For the whole Sanskrit alphabet and the Vedas, from the first word to the last, are musical notations reduced to writing; the two are inseparable.[See Theosophist. 1879. art. “Hindu Music,” p.47.] As Homer distinguished between the “language of Gods” and the “language of men.” [The Sanskrit letters are far more numerous than the poor twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. They are all musical, and they are read - or rather chanted - according to a system given in very old Tântrika works, and are called Devanâgari, the speech, or language, of the Gods. And since each letter answers to a numeral, the Sanskrit affords a far larger scope for expression, and it must necessarily be far more perfect than the Hebrew, which followed the same system but could apply it only in a very limited way. If either of these two languages were taught to humanity by the Gods, surely it would more likely be the Sanskrit, the perfect form of the most perfect language on earth, than the Hebrew, the roughest and the poorest. For once anyone believes in a language of divine origin, he can hardly believe at the same time that Angels or Gods or any divine Messengers have had to develop it from a rough monosyllable form into a perfect one, as we see in terrestrial linguistic evolution.] so did the Hindus. The Devanagari, the Sanskrit characters, are the “speech of the Gods,” and Sanskrit is the divine language”.

In “Isis Unveiled” HPB refers to healing qualities of music:

“From the remotest ages the philosophers have maintained the singular power of music over certain diseases, especially of the nervous class. Kircher recommends it, having experienced its good effects in himself, and he gives an elaborate description of the instrument he employed. It was a harmonica composed of five tumblers of a very thin glass, placed in a row. In two of them were two different varieties of wine; in the third, brandy; in the fourth, oil; in the fifth, water. He extracted five melodious sounds from them in the usual way, by merely rubbing his finger on the edges of the tumblers. The sound has an attractive property; it draws out disease, which streams out to encounter the musical wave, and the two, blending together, disappear in space. Asclepiades employed music for the same purpose, some twenty centuries ago; he blew a trumpet to cure sciatica, and its prolonged sound making the fibres of the nerves to palpitate, the pain invariably subsided. Democritus in like manner affirmed that many diseases could be cured by the melodious sounds of a flute. Mesmer used this very harmonica described by Kircher for his magnetic cures. The celebrated Scotchman, Maxwell, offered to prove to various medical faculties that with certain magnetic means at his disposal, he would cure any of the diseases abandoned by them as incurable; such as epilepsy, impotence, insanity, lameness, dropsy, and the most obstinate fevers.”

In her “Instructions for the pupils of the inner group” Elena Petrovna gave esoteric tables connected with musical notes, that proves her deep understanding not only of the technique of sound production, but also of the meaning of music, scores and sound in general.

As for Elena Petrovna's penchant for the fine art, her drawings testify her talent themselves.

«"Margarita and Mephistopheles."
1862. E. P. Blavatsky’s drawing after listening the opera "Faust" at the theatre.
Blavatsky's drawing of a boat scene, produced in England in 1851

Mahatma K. H. in his letter to A. P. Sinnett of October 1882 highly appreciates the artistic taste of the HPB:

“She can and did produce phenomena, owing to her natural powers combined with several long years of regular training and her phenomena are sometimes better, more wonderful and far more perfect than those of some high, initiated chelas, whom she surpasses in artistic taste and purely Western appreciation of art.”

Nor was Elena Petrovna deprived of poetic talent. Her poem "The Secular Woman" was published in “Вестник Европы" (The Messenger of Europe, No. 2 1871, St. Petersburg):

She is so light-hearted and playful
Her face joy through smile radiates
On top of her head in style graceful
Lies ring of the fair-haired plaits.

It would seem that thoughts bitter never
Had come to her even at night,
To glamour sensation forever
She gave herself up in full might

But often in silence at midnight
Tears welled up to cloud her sight
As guest uninvited in moonlight
The voice whispered she was’t right.

Before her some pictures were floating
Of careless life in the past
How idle it was how boring
And full of misfortunes and lust.

And she entreated for passing
For leaving this purposeless life
But friends of hers only laughing
Their jokes were vulgar and rife.

Poor woman the answer to hear
To murmur of wakening force
To husband went, he lent his ear,
He was believed wise of good course.

He was attentive and so hearty
Absurd fancy her thought he named,
Why not join the liberal party?
Husband honourable proclaimed.

And he gave much advice her other
To direct towards some different deeds,
You’d tickets distribute rather
For various lotteries’ needs.

With hope that was very poor
At distant and blue sky she gazed,
As if it can settle her woe
And secrets that she was amazed.

But sky that far over was spreading
Like witness to soundless grief
By its grandeur it was still adding
Rending her heart to mischief.

To cradle of her little daughter
With her flushing cheek low she bent,
And whispering, praying still hotter:
“Will you, child, take path that I went.

And waste all your power not knowing
That there’s a better wide road?
I’m sure that you will be going
That road of better new mode.

Like me your best worthy years
You won’t waste in idle poor life
You’ll enter the path of carriers
That leads to the freedom through strife.

You’ll go past us who are thoughtless
By grass fascinated so bright
That found themselves in bog hopeless
Instead of green pastures alight.

It is also well to remember that Elena Petrovna had scrap-books where she pasted newspaper and magazine clippings, among which there were many poems, for example, Rishyashringa (story from the Mahabharata), Among the Trees by William Cullen Bryant, The Lost Pleiad by Thomas H. Evans, The Cry from India by John T. Markby, etc.

In conclusion, let's give the floor to Elena Petrovna herself to tell about her abilities and skills.

"Before our acquaintance with you, I drew the same way three more pictures on a satin cloth. One of them had two drawings on it, I presented it to our esteemed friend E.D. Davis; the second one, with flowers, I sold to a doctor Mrs. Lozier for forty dollars, and gave the money to one starving woman...

I tell you about this for you to know, that I care so little about fame and so despise money that, although I was offered much money for the creation of similar paintings on satin cloths (even without any connection with any spiritual manifestations), here in America I did not draw anything except these three pictures; the last one was a painted portrait of M. Steinton Moses, whom I had never seen before, but whose image I immediately reproduced in the picture."[4]

"If I write well enough in other languages (and I know that it is so), then I also know that I have nothing to boast about my English articles."[5]

"I quickly learned Sanskrit and Pali; I will soon be delivering lectures in both of these languages."[6]

"I studied English as a child, but by 1868 I had ceased to speak it. And only from February 1868 to 1870, about nine to ten months, and then for about six months, I spoke with the Mahatma exclusively in English, because I could speak neither Tibetan nor Hindi. I can say that my limited knowledge of English, with which I came to America in 1873, was received anew from Him. I, of course, learned to write in English in the process of working on The Isis' [Unveiled]."[7]


Footnotes


  1. For the purpose of the article it's author wishes to use Russina version of HPB's name without letter H. - Editor
  2. The Decembrists are members of the Russian opposition movement, members of various secret societies of the second half of the 1810s and the first half of the 1820s, who organized the insurrection on December 14 (26), 1825, and were named after the month of the uprising. After an unsuccessful uprising, most Decembrists were exiled to Siberia, where their wives later arrived.
  3. (Isaac) Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) was a Bohemian composer and piano virtuoso.
  4. Blavatskaya E.P. - Letter to Lippittu No 14
  5. Blavatskaya E.P. - Letter to Corson №4
  6. Blavatskaya E.P. - Letter to Dondukov-Korsakov No. 2
  7. Blavatskaya E.P. - Letter to William Hubbe-Schleiden No. 2