In Memoriam: Michael J. Whitty
H. Kellett Chambers
So might we feel over the peaceful dissolution of a great and friendly oak tree which had well served its purpose through many a decade of storm and.sunshine. And so we feel, we who knew him as a brother, over the passing of Michael James Whitty.
He, the great hearted student and teacher of the Wisdom that lies hidden in the book of Nature as honey lies hidden in a flower, is no longer with us in the flesh. AZOTH mourns the physical loss of its founder and editor, and has already begun to feel a quickening power from the overshadowing influence of the now liberated spirit that created this channel of work for itself during the closing years of the incarnation just brought to a fruitful close.
Michael Whitty never spared himself. He labored for the spiritual enlightenment and scientific regeneration of his fellow men, through this magazine and through more personal chan nels, long after his physical frame delicate from boyhood not withstanding its stalwart proportions had given grave warning of its need for rest. During the greater part of last year he struggled desperately, against the pleadings of those who loved him, to keep himself in harness despite the encroachments of an irresistible debility. His work meant everything to him, his health nothing. Indeed, while no ascetic, he repeated in a meas ure the error of St. Francis of Assisi, who at death’s door con fessed his regret that he had not been a little kinder and more considerate to “Brother Ass,” as he called his contemned and wasted body.
A serious breakdown in the Autumn convinced Mr. Whitty of the slenderness of the thread that united him to earth life. There was one week during which that thread was saved from breaking only by the most skilful medical care, directed from the higher planes, a remarkable example of occult therapeutics which may be described technically some day by the earthly practitioner, an energetic disciple of occult wisdom as well as an accomplished orthodox physician M. D., “First Class Honors,” University of Edinburgh, Scotland, among other dis tinctions. As if by a miracle, the beloved patient rallied suffi ciently to put his affairs in order for a voyage to southern Cali fornia with his devoted wife, who herself but recently an in valid ministered to him throughout with an exhaustless wealth of single hearted service.
Invisible guidance manifested itself in every step that led toward the peaceful end in the clear sunshine of Los Angeles. Every obstacle melted away. Most important of all in the mind of the stricken editor and teacher, the uninterrupted continu ance of this magazine was assured by the loyalty of his valued friend and fellow student, Mr. Paul Case, author of “An Intro duction to the Study of the Tarot,” already well known to the readers of AZOTH, of which he was titular Sub-Editor as well as a prolific and versatile contributor under his own name and more than one pen name. Regardless of the personal sac rifice involved, Mr. Case unhesitatingly abandoned the lucra tive practice of his profession of music and hastened here from the South to relieve Michael Whitty, whom he revered and loved above all other men, of his last and greatest responsibility, thus setting him free for as it proved“the great adventure.”
The guidance was not accompanied at that time by any direct intimation of the approaching end, although something like a presentiment of it made itself felt hauntingly only to be banished on the instant by Michael Whitty’s devoted sister and fellow student, Mrs. Tom Wise dear to theatregoers and by at least one other of those who went to see the travellers off when they sailed for a Gulf port, en route to the Pacific Coast, early in November. Our courtly Michael, in gay spirits despite the ravages of his illness, stretched his long legs in a deck lounge, rolled cigarettes and discoursed graciously and philosophically on the things nearest his heart. Whether or not we were ever to see him again, we all found a rare sweetness in that parting.
Thus was Michael Whitty, his earth labors finished, gently de tached from the scenes and atmosphere of his activities. And now certain definite foreshadowings of the end some direct and some veiled in symbolism began to filter through from the spheres of higher vibration to more than one of his associates whose psychic faculties were sufficiently unfolded to receive them.
The disquieting impression thus produced was not allayed by the news from Mrs. Whitty. The sea voyage had exhausted Michael’s evanescent vitality. He did not rally after arriving at Los Angeles. Renewed medical attention failed to arrest his rapid and peaceful decline. The balmy climate but served to assuage the last brief act of his life’s drama, further mollified by the assurance that his beloved wife would be sustained in her climax of grief by the companionship of her sister, resident in Los Angeles a circumstance in itself sufficient to suggest the working of a merciful wisdom in the dictation of Michael Whitty’s last earthly voyage. On the second morning after Christmas Day, he fearlessly crossed the threshold into the realm of his patient researches, wherein he had long studied to function as a conscious helper of mankind.
Born in 1862, he was the grandson and namesake of the Michael James Whitty who established the first penny news paper in England the Liverpool Daily Post after successfully petitioning Parliament to make that great exploit possible by removing the stamp duty. Prior to that pioneer enterprise, which accomplished so much for the enlightenment of the mass es, he had founded the Liverpool Mercury. He edited the Post to the day of his death, and it became a great and powerful organ of public opinion. His eldest son, Edward, became the youngest of parliamentary reporters and the author of a famous book, “Friends in Bohemia.” Our Michael’s father was another son, Alfred, who was the pioneer’s right hand man in the business management of the Post, but who died at the age of 38 after an estrangement from his father which resulted in the newspaper’s becoming the property, during its founder’s last illness, of the late Sir Edward Russell, whom Alfred had taken into the estab lishment as an office boy.
Here let us observe the workings of Karma in the case of our Michael. However the probabilities may have looked in his childhood, it was not written that he should become the proprietor of a great newspaper property. And another point: Old Michael James Whitty, born in Ireland of ancient Cornish lineage, had what heraldic lawyers believed to be a perfectly valid claim to the Earldom of Shrewsbury and Talbot, in prefer ence to the reigning incumbent, who carried a white wand at the coronation of Edward VII by virtue of being Lord Seneschal of Ireland as well as Premier Earl of England, and what not. Our Michael came in the line of his grandfather’s succession and was the last male of his race, the last of the family name in that tall tribe of Whittys; and if old Michael James had taken his claim to the House of Lords there might be a different story to tell. But he didn’t, he let it drop, for neither was it written in the Book of Karma that our Michael should be a great landed noble man, although he would have carried off the part with easy distinction.
His grandfather stood six feet three, his father six feet two; Michael topped the family record, and ducked doubtful door ways, with six feet four inches of frank and winning manhood. He grew that way as a youth, with such a swift upward rush that at the age of seventeen he was packed off to Australia to live in the open air, a great London physician having prescribed that means of saving his life.
Before following him thither, let us record the circumstance that his mother had the remarkable faculty of dreaming occur rences of domestic and neighborly life which afterward “came true” in every detail. This accomplishment greatly amused her children and rather embarrassed herself. Once the Society for Psychical Research sent an expert down from London to in quire into one of her involuntary feats which had been noised abroad, but Michael and his two sisters were so facetious about it that the visitor left the house in a huff. Although the Whittys were not a theatrical family, both the sisters became actresses and achieved much distinction. Mrs. Wise has already been mentioned. The other is Lady May Webster, the first woman knight, dubbed Dame Commander of the British Empire’on account of her remarkable war work, which included the rais ing of $325,000 to found the Star and Garter Home for Crip pled and Disabled Soldiers at Richmond. She is the wife of Ben Webster, the actor, and, as May Whitty, was a very popular comedienne before the war brought out her talents for organi zation as the chairman of eleven committees and of the Actress’ Franchise League, which engineered the Richmond enterprise on the site of the historic old Star and Garter Hotel.
In the Queensland bush, where he roughed it for seventeen years, Michael found his health and became a giant of muscular strength. He had never heard of Occult Science or the Myster ies as vital factors in modern existence. But Michael was ripe.
One day while riding to the nearest settlement for the mail, and probably for a can of tobacco and a case of tea cantering like a young Don Quixote through the primordial Lemurian solitude, peopled with grotesquely hopping animals and snake eating birds endowed with a horrible gift of demoniac laughter Michael met a stranger. Study, reader, the technique of the august Dramatists of Karma, and bow the head before their sovereign use of time and occasion. The stranger needed a few shillings and offered to sell some old books that he had among the kickshaws rolled in his blanket. Book-loving Michael, who had read every book for twenty miles around and was hungry for the sight of print, eagerly bought the lot. And they were Theosophical books!
God bless Theosophy for sowing the world with books like bullets to hit those who are ripe! What happened to Michael during the reading of those books he expressed to his sister Gretchen (Mrs. Tom Wise) when he joined her in New York some years later, in these words:
“It all came back to me!”
All that he had known in ancient lives and forgotten in this one, all that enfranchised him as a citizen of the Universe instead of groper in chaos, began pushing back into his con sciousness, taking warm possession of him, feeding soul and in tellect and spirit simple and fundamental and unarguable as mother’s milk.
Like every ripe one who stands at last transported before the partly unveiled perfection of the Plan, he hastened to try to share the Bread of Wisdom with his neighbors, and soon there were rumors that a touch of sunstroke or solitude or something had unsettled the hitherto sagacious head of Long Mike, the genial English “jackeroo” with the dairy farm in the foothills. Michael was at first bewildered at the indifference of others to the source of his satisfaction, so accessible to all and so over whelming in its appeal to himself. But he soon learned one of the first lessons of the beginner that at this stage of evolution only a handful in each generation become ripe for conscious de velopment, while the unleavened mass must continue struggling through the unconscious development that comes with unerring precision from the eating and drinking, moneymaking and love making, hating, fighting, selfseeking, pleasure getting, pain reaping tissue of educative experiences wherein the Dramatistst, of Karma set us again and again to strut or slink through our successive little roles in the illimitable and ever unfolding human comedy evolving cells in the organism of the allinclusive ONE, whatever we call that One Krishna, Osiris.
That discovery gave him patience and tolerance. He was no longer anxious about his neighbors. He knew that their en lightenment would be attended to whenever, in whatever life, they attained ripeness. But he also knew that his own business during the rest of his current incarnation was to be a helper, so he studied as hard as he could, shedding such rays of light for others as opportunity permitted and opportunity is never very far from the elbow of the disciple. Moreover he found help for himself, as the disciple always does when he is ready for it. For there lived on a Queensland ranch (or “station” as they call it in Australia) a wise occult student in the person of a sister of Mrs. Campbell Praed, the novelist, and Michael found her, by occult gravitation, and derived much benefit and refreshment from their intercourse.
In a few years he was ready for his work on another con tinent. He didn’t know it at the time, but the Dramatists of Karma paved the way rather rudely, as it ap’peared by wip ing out his dairy farm through the agency of a prolonged drought which doubtless served many other necessary karmic purposes in the affairs of many other persons, for the complexity of the web woven by the Fates is beyond the mental grasp of a cham pion chessplayer or even of Professor Einstein.
A footloose adventurer of the empyrean, Michael Whitty came to New York at the urging of Mr. and Mrs. Wise, and here he found congenial employment in advancing various humani tarian causes, a work for which his personality and talents, united with his deep sincerity, constituted an impressive equipment.
He addressed legislatures and medical societies in support of movements to mitigate the horrors of unnecessary vivisection by regulating its practice, and to put an end to deliberate and harmful medical experimentation upon the poorer class of hospital patients; and even the interests opposed to those re forms listened with reluctant respect to his arguments. He be came a significant figure in the Theosophical Society, then un divided, and was chosen President of its New York branch, a position he retained for many years, during which he did much lecturing. His “Simple Study in Theosophy” is justly regarded as the most able and lucid shorter textbook extant on that subject.
He would have written other books, could he ever have spared the time. The logical thought and graceful style that he put into his AZOTH editorials and into his articles under the pennarrje “Amru” would have served well for sustained works of oc cult philosophy and research. He was quite a master of dialectic, enjoyed nothing better than a flashing of intellectual rapiers and was Socratically dangerous in argument. On the other side of his nature he was a patient and enthusiatic teacher to all who had the will to learn, never so happy as when expounding the intricacies of occult science in its various branches to a group of beginners and encouraging them to ask questions, which he would answer unweariedly.
It was during this period that he found a crowning har mony in life by his marriage with Miss Mabel Elliot Lambley. . Herself an occult student, Mrs. Whitty elected to sacrifice her studies to a large extent in order to take care of one who had not the slightest idea of taking care of himself. The rugged frame that he had brought back from the bush was not geared for a sedentary life. He allowed himself no time for recreation, and he had no patience for deliberate exercise. Life was so full of things he wanted to do that he grudged the time for eating.
For years Mabel Whitty fought a losing fight against his de termined disregard of himself, delaying his physical decline without being able to arrest it. And that was her tragedy!
It was not until some years after quitting the Theosophical Society and entering a more advanced field of study that Michael Whitty founded AZOTH. This was a formidable enterprise in which he had the energetic cooperation of Mrs. Whitty, an admirable business woman, and the loyal support of friends. He had long dreamed of fathering a magazine which should be an impartial clearing house of spiritual, esoteric and psychic research, and at the same time should not let its own course deviate from the polestar of classical occultism, as hanchnidmvn in the Western world since the time of Pythagoras. AZOTH has come as near to realizing its Founder’s ideal as human limi tations would permit, and he felt that its success more than re paid him for the vitality that he spent so unsparingly in making it what it has been and is and what, with his help and that of the Great Ones of his present company, it will continue to be.
Another important constructive labor, about which nothing can be said here, was carried by Michael Whitty to a vic torious stage of accomplishment just before his physical col lapse. The two labors may be said to have been his life. They brought him many staunch friends and a few malignant enemies. He wore no armor against treachery and hypocrisy. In the frankness of his soul he accepted all professed friends at their face value and, impartial as the oak tree, sheltered the just and the unjust. For all his faults were on the side of mercy.
Vale Frater! Yet more than vale.’ To you who have but stepped to the other side of the tapestry to continue the weaving where the design is visible to you, whose nearness is still felt by your fellow weavers on the seamy side to you, who are still a seeker of the Philosopher’s Stone and a knight of the Holy Grail to you it shall not be “Farewell,” nor the antique, “Hail and Farewell,” but, by antithesis of faith and knowledge, “Fare well and Hail!” Then let it be “Ave Frater!” as of old, and a pledge that we will remember, that we will be faithful, that we will not allow the enervating spectres of pride, ambition, doubt, fear, envy or uncharitableness to rise between us and the one- pointed pursuit of the Great Work.
Hail, beloved Chief! We will “carry on!”