A new version of Bahai.org, including the Bahá’í Reference Library, is in the final stages of testing and development. This ‘old version’ of the Bahá’í Reference Library will be replaced in December 2014.

The new version of the Bahá’i Reference Library can be previewed here »

God Passes By

  • Author:
  • Shoghi Effendi

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1979 second printing
  • Pages:
  • 412
Go to printed page GO
Pages 279-294

Chapter XIX: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Travels in Europe and America

279
The establishment of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh in the Western Hemisphere—the most outstanding achievement that will forever be associated with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s ministry—had, as observed in the preceding pages, set in motion such tremendous forces, and been productive of such far-reaching results, as to warrant the active and personal participation of the Center of the Covenant Himself in those epoch-making activities which His Western disciples had, through the propelling power of that Covenant, boldly initiated and were vigorously prosecuting.
The crisis which the blindness and perversity of the Covenant-breakers had precipitated, and which, for several years, had so tragically interfered with the execution of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s purpose, was now providentially resolved. An unsurmountable barrier had been suddenly lifted from His path, His fetters were unlocked, and God’s avenging wrath had taken the chains from His neck and placed them upon that of ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd, His royal adversary and the dupe of His most implacable enemy. The sacred remains of the Báb, entrusted to His hands by His departed Father, had, moreover, with immense difficulty been transferred from their hiding-place in far-off Ṭihrán to the Holy Land, and deposited ceremoniously and reverently by Him in the bosom of Mt. Carmel.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá was at this time broken in health. He suffered from several maladies brought on by the strains and stresses of a tragic life spent almost wholly in exile and imprisonment. He was on the threshold of three-score years and ten. Yet as soon as He was released from His forty-year long captivity, as soon as He had laid the Báb’s body in a safe and permanent resting-place, and His mind was free of grievous anxieties connected with the execution of that priceless Trust, He arose with sublime courage, confidence and resolution to consecrate what little strength remained to Him, in the evening of His life, to a service of such heroic proportions that no parallel to it is to be found in the annals of the first Bahá’í century.
Indeed His three years of travel, first to Egypt, then to Europe and later to America, mark, if we would correctly appraise their historic importance, a turning point of the utmost significance in 280 the history of the century. For the first time since the inception of the Faith, sixty-six years previously, its Head and supreme Representative burst asunder the shackles which had throughout the ministries of both the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh so grievously fettered its freedom. Though repressive measures still continued to circumscribe the activities of the vast majority of its adherents in the land of its birth, its recognized Leader was now vouchsafed a freedom of action which, with the exception of a brief interval in the course of the War of 1914–18, He was to continue to enjoy to the end of His life, and which has never since been withdrawn from its institutions at its world center.
So momentous a change in the fortunes of the Faith was the signal for such an outburst of activity on His part as to dumbfound His followers in East and West with admiration and wonder, and exercise an imperishable influence on the course of its future history. He Who, in His own words, had entered prison as a youth and left it an old man, Who never in His life had faced a public audience, had attended no school, had never moved in Western circles, and was unfamiliar with Western customs and language, had arisen not only to proclaim from pulpit and platform, in some of the chief capitals of Europe and in the leading cities of the North American continent, the distinctive verities enshrined in His Father’s Faith, but to demonstrate as well the Divine origin of the Prophets gone before Him, and to disclose the nature of the tie binding them to that Faith.
Inflexibly resolved to undertake this arduous voyage, at whatever cost to His strength, at whatever risk to His life, He, quietly and without any previous warning, on a September afternoon, of the year 1910, the year following that which witnessed the downfall of Sulṭán ‘Abdu’l-Ḥamíd and the formal entombment of the Báb’s remains on Mt. Carmel, sailed for Egypt, sojourned for about a month in Port Said, and from thence embarked with the intention of proceeding to Europe, only to discover that the condition of His health necessitated His landing again at Alexandria and postponing His voyage. Fixing His residence in Ramleh, a suburb of Alexandria, and later visiting Zaytún and Cairo, He, on August 11 of the ensuing year, sailed with a party of four, on the S.S. Corsica, for Marseilles, and proceeded, after a brief stop at Thonon-les-Bains, to London, where He arrived on September 4, 1911. After a visit of about a month, He went to Paris, where He stayed for a period of nine weeks, returning to Egypt in December, 1911. Again taking up His residence in Ramleh, where He passed the winter, He embarked, on 281 His second journey to the West, on the steamship Cedric, on March 25, 1912, sailing via Naples direct to New York where He arrived on April 11. After a prolonged tour of eight months’ duration, which carried Him from coast to coast, and in the course of which He visited Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Montclair, Boston, Worcester, Brooklyn, Fanwood, Milford, Philadelphia, West Englewood, Jersey City, Cambridge, Medford, Morristown, Dublin, Green Acre, Montreal, Malden, Buffalo, Kenosha, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha, Lincoln, Denver, Glenwood Springs, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Oakland, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Pasadena, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Cincinnati, and Baltimore, He sailed, on the S.S. Celtic, on December 5, from New York for Liverpool; and landing there He proceeded by train to London. Later He visited Oxford, Edinburgh and Bristol, and thence returning to London, left for Paris on January 21, 1913. On March 30 He traveled to Stuttgart, and from there proceeded, on April 9, to Budapest, visited Vienna nine days later, returned to Stuttgart on April 25, and to Paris on May first, where He remained until June 12, sailing the following day, on the S.S. Himalaya from Marseilles bound for Egypt, arriving in Port Said four days later, where after short visits to Ismá’ílíyyih and Abúqír, and a prolonged stay in Ramleh, He returned to Haifa, concluding His historic journeys on December 5, 1913.
It was in the course of these epoch-making journeys and before large and representative audiences, at times exceeding a thousand people, that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father’s Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God’s latest Revelation to mankind. The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank 282 of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind—these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys. The exposition of these vitalizing truths of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, which He characterized as the “spirit of the age,” He supplemented with grave and reiterated warnings of an impending conflagration which, if the statesmen of the world should fail to avert, would set ablaze the entire continent of Europe. He, moreover, predicted, in the course of these travels, the radical changes which would take place in that continent, foreshadowed the movement of the decentralization of political power which would inevitably be set in motion, alluded to the troubles that would overtake Turkey, anticipated the persecution of the Jews on the European continent, and categorically asserted that the “banner of the unity of mankind would be hoisted, that the tabernacle of universal peace would be raised and the world become another world.”
During these travels ‘Abdu’l-Bahá displayed a vitality, a courage, a single-mindedness, a consecration to the task He had set Himself to achieve that excited the wonder and admiration of those who had the privilege of observing at close hand His daily acts. Indifferent to the sights and curiosities which habitually invite the attention of travelers and which the members of His entourage often wished Him to visit; careless alike of His comfort and His health; expending every ounce of His energy day after day from dawn till late at night; consistently refusing any gifts or contributions towards the expenses of His travels; unfailing in His solicitude for the sick, the sorrowful and the down-trodden; uncompromising in His championship of the underprivileged races and classes; bountiful as the rain in His generosity to the poor; contemptuous of the attacks launched against Him by vigilant and fanatical exponents of orthodoxy and sectarianism; marvelous in His frankness while demonstrating, from platform and pulpit, the prophetic Mission of Jesus Christ to the Jews, of the Divine origin of Islám in churches and synagogues, or the truth of Divine Revelation and the necessity of religion to materialists, atheists or agnostics; unequivocal in His glorification of Bahá’u’lláh at all times and within the sanctuaries of divers sects and denominations; adamant in His refusal, on several occasions, to curry the favor of people of title and wealth both in England and in the 283 United States; and last but not least incomparable in the spontaneity, the genuineness and warmth of His sympathy and loving-kindness shown to friend and stranger alike, believer and unbeliever, rich and poor, high and low, whom He met, either intimately or casually, whether on board ship, or whilst pacing the streets, in parks or public squares, at receptions or banquets, in slums or mansions, in the gatherings of His followers or the assemblage of the learned, He, the incarnation of every Bahá’í virtue and the embodiment of every Bahá’í ideal, continued for three crowded years to trumpet to a world sunk in materialism and already in the shadow of war, the healing, the God-given truths enshrined in His Father’s Revelation.
In the course of His several visits to Egypt He had more than one interview with the Khedive, Abbás Ḥilmí Páshá II, was introduced to Lord Kitchener, met the Muftí, Shaykh Muḥammad Bakhit, as well as the Khedive’s Imám, Shaykh Muḥammad Rashíd, and associated with several ‘ulamás, páshás, Persian notables, members of the Turkish Parliament, editors of leading newspapers in Cairo and Alexandria, and other leaders and representatives of well-known institutions, both religious and secular.
Whilst He sojourned in England the house placed at His disposal in Cadogan Gardens became a veritable mecca to all sorts and conditions of men, thronging to visit the Prisoner of ‘Akká Who had chosen their great city as the first scene of His labors in the West. “O, these pilgrims, these guests, these visitors!” thus bears witness His devoted hostess during the time He spent in London, “Remembering those days, our ears are filled with the sound of their footsteps—as they came from every country in the world. Every day, all day long, a constant stream, an interminable procession! Ministers and missionaries, oriental scholars and occult students, practical men of affairs and mystics, Anglicans, Catholics, and Non-conformists, Theosophists and Hindus, Christian Scientists and doctors of medicine, Muslims, Buddhists and Zoroastrians. There also called: politicians, Salvation Army soldiers, and other workers for human good, women suffragists, journalists, writers, poets and healers, dressmakers and great ladies, artists and artisans, poor workless people and prosperous merchants, members of the dramatic and musical world, these all came; and none were too lowly, nor too great, to receive the sympathetic consideration of this holy Messenger, Who was ever giving His life for others’ good.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s first public appearance before a western audience significantly enough took place in a Christian house of worship, when, 284 on September 10, 1911, He addressed an overflowing congregation from the pulpit of the City Temple. Introduced by the Pastor, the Reverend R. J. Campbell, He, in simple and moving language, and with vibrant voice, proclaimed the unity of God, affirmed the fundamental oneness of religion, and announced that the hour of the unity of the sons of men, of all races, religions and classes had struck. On another occasion, on September 17, at the request of the Venerable Archdeacon Wilberforce, He addressed the congregation of St. John the Divine, at Westminster, after evening service, choosing as His theme the transcendental greatness of the Godhead, as affirmed and elucidated by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán. “The Archdeacon,” wrote a contemporary of that event, “had the Bishop’s chair placed for his Guest on the chancel steps, and, standing beside Him, read the translation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address himself. The congregation was profoundly moved, and, following the Archdeacon’s example, knelt to receive the blessing of the Servant of God—Who stood with extended arms—His wonderful voice rising and falling in the silence with the power of His invocation.”
At the invitation of the Lord Mayor of London He breakfasted with him at the Mansion House; addressed the Theosophical Society at their headquarters, at the express request of their President, and also a Meeting of the Higher Thought center in London; was invited by a deputation from the Bramo-Somaj Society to deliver a lecture under their auspices; visited and delivered an address on world unity at the Mosque at Woking, at the invitation of the Muslim Community of Great Britain, and was entertained by Persian princes, noblemen, ex-ministers and members of the Persian Legation in London. He stayed as a guest in Dr. T. K. Cheyne’s home in Oxford, and He delivered an address to “a large and deeply interested audience,” highly academic in character, gathered at Manchester College in that city, and presided over by Dr. Estlin Carpenter. He also spoke from the pulpit of a Congregational Church in the East End of London, in response to the request of its Pastor; addressed gatherings in Caxton Hall and Westminster Hall, the latter under the chairmanship of Sir Thomas Berkeley, and witnessed a performance of “Eager Heart,” a Christmas mystery play at the Church House, Westminster, the first dramatic performance He had ever beheld, and which in its graphic depiction of the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ moved Him to tears. In the Hall of the Passmore Edwards’ Settlement, in Tavistock Place, he spoke to an audience of about four hundred and sixty representative people, presided over by Prof. Michael Sadler, called on 285 a number of working women of that Settlement, who were on holiday at Vanners’, in Byfleet, some twenty miles out of London, and paid a second visit there, meeting on that occasion people of every condition who had specially gathered to see Him, among whom were “the clergy of several denominations, a headmaster of a boys’ public school, a member of Parliament, a doctor, a famous political writer, the vice-chancellor of a university, several journalists, a well-known poet, and a magistrate from London.” “He will long be remembered,” wrote a chronicler of His visit to England, describing that occasion, “as He sat in the bow window in the afternoon sunshine, His arm round a very ragged but very happy little boy who had come to ask ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for sixpence for his money box and for his invalid mother, whilst round Him in the room were gathered men and women discussing Education, Socialism, the first Reform Bill, and the relation of submarines and wireless telegraphy to the new era on which man is entering.”
Among those who called on Him during the memorable days He spent in England and Scotland were the Reverend Archdeacon Wilberforce, the Reverend R. J. Campbell, the Reverend Rhonddha Williams, the Reverend Roland Corbet, Lord Lamington, Sir Richard and Lady Stapley, Sir Michael Sadler, the Jalálu’d-Dawlih, son of the Zillu’s-Sulṭán, Sir Ameer Ali, the late Maharaja of Jalawar, who paid Him many visits and gave an elaborate dinner and reception in His honor, the Maharaja of Rajputana, the Ranee of Sarawak, Princess Karadja, Baroness Barnekov, Lady Wemyss and her sister, Lady Glencomer, Lady Agnew, Miss Constance Maud, Prof. E. G. Browne, Prof. Patrick Geddes, Mr. Albert Dawson, editor of the Christian Commonwealth, Mr. David Graham Pole, Mrs. Annie Besant, Mrs. Pankhurst, and Mr. Stead, who had long and earnest conversations with Him. “Very numerous,” His hostess, describing the impression produced on those who were accorded by Him the privilege of a private audience, has written, “were these applicants for so unique an experience, how unique only those knew when in the presence of the Master, and we could partly divine, as we saw the look on their faces as they emerged—a look as though blended of awe, of marveling, and of a certain calm joy. Sometimes we were conscious of reluctance in them to come forth into the outer world, as though they would hold fast to their beatitude, lest the return of things of earth should wrest it from them.” “A profound impression,” the aforementioned chronicler has recorded, summing up the results produced by that memorable visit, “remained in the minds and memories of all sorts 286 and conditions of men and women…. Very greatly was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s sojourn in London appreciated; very greatly His departure regretted. He left behind Him many, many friends. His love had kindled love. His heart had opened to the West, and the Western heart had closed around this patriarchal presence from the East. His words had in them something that appealed not only to their immediate hearers, but to men and women generally.”
His visits to Paris, where for a time He occupied an apartment in the Avenue de Camoens, were marked by a warmth of welcome no less remarkable than the reception accorded Him by His friends and followers in London. “During the Paris visit,” that same devoted English hostess, Lady Blomfield, who had followed Him to that city, has testified, “as it had been in London, daily happenings took on the atmosphere of spiritual events…. Every morning, according to His custom, the Master expounded the principles of the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh to those who gathered round Him, the learned and the unlearned, eager and respectful. They were of all nationalities and creeds, from the East and from the West, including Theosophists, agnostics, materialists, spiritualists, Christian Scientists, social reformers, Hindus, Sufis, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and many others.” And again: “Interview followed interview. Church dignitaries of various branches of the Christian Tree came, some earnestly desirous of finding new aspects of the Truth…. Others there were who stopped their ears, lest they should hear and understand.”
Persian princes, noblemen and ex-ministers, among them the Zillu’s-Sulṭán, the Persian Minister, the Turkish Ambassador in Paris, Rashíd Páshá, an ex-valí of Beirut, Turkish páshás and ex-ministers, and Viscount Arawaka, Japanese Ambassador to the Court of Spain, were among those who had the privilege of attaining His presence. Gatherings of Esperantists and Theosophists, students of the Faculty of Theology and large audiences at l’Alliance Spiritualiste were addressed by Him; at a Mission Hall, in a very poor quarter of the city, He addressed a congregation at the invitation of the Pastor, whilst in numerous meetings of His followers those already familiar with His teachings were privileged to hear from His lips detailed and frequent expositions of certain aspects of His Father’s Faith.
In Stuttgart, where He made a brief but never-to-be-forgotten stay, and to which He traveled in spite of ill-health in order to establish personal contact with the members of the community of His enthusiastic and dearly beloved German friends, He, apart from attending the gatherings of His devoted followers, bestowed His 287 abundant blessings on the members of the Youth group, gathered at Esslingen, and addressed, at the invitation of Professor Christale, President of the Esperantists of Europe, a large meeting of Esperantists at their club. He, moreover, visited Bad Mergentheim, in Württemberg, where a few years later (1915) a monument was erected in memory of His visit by one of His grateful disciples. “The humility, love and devotion of the German believers,” wrote an eyewitness, “rejoiced the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and they received His blessings and His words of encouraging counsel in complete submissiveness. …Friends came from far and near to see the Master. There was a constant flow of visitors at the Hotel Marquart. There ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received them with such love and graciousness that they became radiant with joy and happiness.”
In Vienna, where He stayed a few days, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed a gathering of Theosophists in that city, whilst in Budapest He granted an interview to the President of the University, met on a number of occasions the famous Orientalist Prof. Arminius Vambery, addressed the Theosophical Society, and was visited by the President of the Turanian, and representatives of the Turkish Societies, army officers, several members of Parliament, and a deputation of Young Turks, led by Prof. Julius Germanus, who accorded Him a hearty welcome to the city. “During this time,” is the written testimony of Dr. Rusztem Vambery, “His (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) room in the Dunapalota Hotel became a veritable mecca for all those whom the mysticism of the East and the wisdom of its Master attracted into its magic circle. Among His visitors were Count Albert Apponyi, Prelate Alexander Giesswein, Professor Ignatius Goldziher, the Orientalist of world-wide renown, Professor Robert A. Nadler, the famous Budapest painter, and leader of the Hungarian Theosophical Society.”
It was reserved, however, for the North American continent to witness the most astonishing manifestation of the boundless vitality ‘Abdu’l-Bahá exhibited in the course of these journeys. The remarkable progress achieved by the organized community of His followers in the United States and Canada, the marked receptivity of the American public to His Message, as well as His consciousness of the high destiny awaiting the people of that continent, fully warranted the expenditure of time and energy which he devoted to this most important phase of His travels. A visit which entailed a journey of over five thousand miles, which lasted from April to December, which carried Him from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast and back, which elicited discourses of such number as to fill no less than three volumes, 288 was to mark the climax of those journeys, and was fully justified by the far-reaching results which He well knew such labors on His part would produce. “This long voyage,” He told His assembled followers on the occasion of His first meeting with them in New York, “will prove how great is My love for you. There were many troubles and vicissitudes, but in the thought of meeting you, all these things vanished and were forgotten.”
The character of the acts He performed fully demonstrated the importance He attached to that visit. The laying, with His own hands, of the dedication stone of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, by the shore of Lake Michigan, in the vicinity of Chicago, on the recently purchased property, and in the presence of a representative gathering of Bahá’ís from East and West; the dynamic affirmation by Him of the implications of the Covenant instituted by Bahá’u’lláh, following the reading of the newly translated Tablet of the Branch, in a general assembly of His followers in New York, designated henceforth as the “City of the Covenant”; the moving ceremony in Inglewood, California, marking His special pilgrimage to the grave of Thornton Chase, the “first American believer,” and indeed the first to embrace the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh in the Western world; the symbolic Feast He Himself offered to a large gathering of His disciples assembled in the open air, and in the green setting of a June day at West Englewood, in New Jersey; the blessing He bestowed on the Open Forum at Green Acre, in Maine, on the banks of the Piscataqua River, where many of His followers had gathered, and which was to evolve into one of the first Bahá’í summer schools of the Western Hemisphere and be recognized as one of the earliest endowments established in the American continent; His address to an audience of several hundred attending the last session of the newly-founded Bahá’í Temple Unity held in Chicago; and, last but not least, the exemplary act He performed by uniting in wedlock two of His followers of different nationalities, one of the white, the other of the Negro race—these must rank among the outstanding functions associated with His visit to the community of the American believers, functions designed to pave the way for the erection of their central House of Worship, to fortify them against the tests they were soon to endure, to cement their unity, and to bless the beginnings of that Administrative Order which they were soon to initiate and champion.
No less remarkable were ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s public activities in the course of His association with the multitude of people with whom He came in contact during His tour across a continent. A full account 289 of these diversified activities which crowded His days during no less than eight months, would be beyond the scope of this survey. Suffice it to say that in the city of New York alone He delivered public addresses in, and made formal visits to, no less than fifty-five different places. Peace societies, Christian and Jewish congregations, colleges and universities, welfare and charitable organizations, members of ethical cults, New Thought centers, metaphysical groups, Women’s clubs, scientific associations, gatherings of Esperantists, Theosophists, Mormons, and agnostics, institutions for the advancement of the colored people, representatives of the Syrian, the Armenian, the Greek, the Chinese, and Japanese communities—all were brought into contact with His dynamic presence, and were privileged to hear from His lips His Father’s Message. Nor was the press either in its editorial comment or in the publication of reports of His lectures, slow to appreciate the breadth of His vision or the character of His summons.
His discourse at the Peace Conferences at Lake Mohonk; His addresses to large gatherings at Columbia, Howard and New York Universities; His participation in the fourth annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People; His fearless assertion of the truth of the prophetic Missions of both Jesus Christ and Muḥammad in Temple Emmanu-El, a Jewish synagogue in San Francisco, where no less than two thousand people were gathered; His illuminating discourse before an audience of eighteen hundred students and one hundred and eighty teachers and professors at Leland Stanford University; His memorable visit to the Bowery Mission in the slums of New York; the brilliant reception given in His honor in Washington, at which many outstanding figures in the social life of the capital were presented to Him—these stand out as the highlights of the unforgettable Mission He undertook in the service of His Father’s Cause. Secretaries of State, Ambassadors, Congressmen, distinguished rabbis and churchmen, and other people of eminence attained His presence, among whom were such figures as Dr. D. S. Jordan, President of Leland Stanford University, Prof. Jackson of Columbia University, Prof. Jack of Oxford University, Rabbi Stephen Wise of New York, Dr. Martin A. Meyer, Rabbi Joseph L. Levy, Rabbi Abram Simon, Alexander Graham Bell, Rabindranath Tagore, Hon. Franklin K. Lane, Mrs. William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie, Hon. Franklin MacVeagh, Secretary of the United States Treasury, Lee McClung, Mr. Roosevelt, Admiral Wain Wright, Admiral Peary, the British, Dutch and Swiss Ministers 290 in Washington, Yúsúf Díyá Páshá, the Turkish Ambassador in that city, Thomas Seaton, Hon. William Sulzer and Prince Muḥammad-‘Alí of Egypt, the Khedive’s brother.
“When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited this country for the first time in 1912,” a commentator on His American travels has written, “He found a large and sympathetic audience waiting to greet Him personally and to receive from His own lips His loving and spiritual message. …Beyond the words spoken there was something indescribable in His personality that impressed profoundly all who came into His presence. The dome-like head, the patriarchal beard, the eyes that seemed to have looked beyond the reach of time and sense, the soft yet clearly penetrating voice, the translucent humility, the never failing love,—but above all, the sense of power mingled with gentleness that invested His whole being with a rare majesty of spiritual exaltation that both set Him apart, and yet that brought Him near to the lowliest soul,—it was all this, and much more that can never be defined, that have left with His many … friends, memories that are ineffaceable and unspeakably precious.”
A survey, however inadequate of the varied and immense activities of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His tour of Europe and America cannot leave without mention some of the strange incidents that would often accompany personal contact with Him. The bold determination of a certain indomitable youth who, fearing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would not be able to visit the Western states, and unable himself to pay for a train journey to New England, had traveled all the way from Minneapolis to Maine lying on the rods between the wheels of a train; the transformation effected in the life of the son of a country rector in England, who, in his misery and poverty, had resolved, whilst walking along the banks of the Thames, to put an end to his existence, and who, at the sight of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s photograph displayed in a shop window, had inquired about Him, hurried to His residence, and been so revived by His words of cheer and comfort as to abandon all thought of self-destruction; the extraordinary experience of a woman whose little girl, as the result of a dream she had had, insisted that Jesus Christ was in the world, and who, at the sight of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s picture exposed in the window of a magazine store, had instantly identified it as that of the Jesus Christ of her dream—an act which impelled her mother, after reading that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was in Paris, to take the next boat for Europe and hasten to attain His presence; the decision of the editor of a journal printed in Japan to break his journey to Tokyo at Constantinople, and travel to London for “the 291 joy of spending one evening in His presence”; the touching scene when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, receiving from the hands of a Persian friend, recently arrived in London from Ishqábád, a cotton handkerchief containing a piece of dry black bread and a shrivelled apple—the offering of a poor Bahá’í workman in that city—opened it before His assembled guests, and, leaving His luncheon untouched, broke pieces off that bread, and partaking Himself of it shared it with those who were present—these are but a few of a host of incidents that shed a revealing light on some personal aspects of His memorable journeys.
Nor can certain scenes revolving around that majestic and patriarchal Figure, as He moved through the cities of Europe and America, be ever effaced from memory. The remarkable interview at which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, while placing lovingly His hand on the head of Archdeacon Wilberforce, answered his many questions, whilst that distinguished churchman sat on a low chair by His side; the still more remarkable scene when that same Archdeacon, after having knelt with his entire congregation to receive His benediction at St. John’s the Divine, passed down the aisle to the vestry hand in hand with his Guest, whilst a hymn was being sung by the entire assembly standing; the sight of Jalálu’d-Dawlih, fallen prostrate at His feet, profuse in his apologies and imploring His forgiveness for his past iniquities; the enthusiastic reception accorded Him at Leland Stanford University when, before the gaze of well nigh two thousand professors and students, He discoursed on some of the noblest truths underlying His message to the West; the touching spectacle at Bowery Mission when four hundred of the poor of New York filed past Him, each receiving a piece of silver from His blessed hands; the acclamation of a Syrian woman in Boston who, pushing aside the crowd that had gathered around Him, flung herself at His feet, exclaiming, “I confess that in Thee I have recognized the Spirit of God and Jesus Christ Himself”; the no less fervent tribute paid Him by two admiring Arabs who, as He was leaving that city for Dublin, N. H., cast themselves before Him, and, sobbing aloud, avowed that He was God’s own Messenger to mankind; the vast congregation of two thousand Jews assembled in a synagogue in San Francisco, intently listening to His discourse as He demonstrated the validity of the claims advanced by both Jesus Christ and Muḥammad; the gathering He addressed one night in Montreal, at which, in the course of His speech, His turban fell from His head, so carried away was He by the theme He was expounding; the boisterous crowd in a very poor quarter of Paris, who, awed by His presence, reverently and silently 292 made way for Him as He passed through their midst, while returning from a Mission Hall whose congregation He had been addressing; the characteristic gesture of a Zoroastrian physician who, arriving in breathless haste on the morning of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s departure from London to bid Him farewell, anointed with fragrant oil first His head and His breast, and then, touching the hands of all present, placed round His neck and shoulders a garland of rosebuds and lilies; the crowd of visitors arriving soon after dawn, patiently waiting on the doorsteps of His house in Cadogan Gardens until the door would be opened for their admittance; His majestic figure as He paced with a vigorous step the platform, or stood with hands upraised to pronounce the benediction, in church and synagogue alike, and before vast audiences of reverent listeners; the unsolicited mark of respect shown Him by distinguished society women in London, who would spontaneously curtsy when ushered into His presence; the poignant sight when He stooped low to the grave of His beloved disciple, Thornton Chase, in Inglewood Cemetery, and kissed his tombstone, an example which all those present hastened to follow; the distinguished gathering of Christians, Jews and Muslims, men and women and representative of both the East and the West, assembled to hear His discourse on world unity in the mosque at Woking—such scenes as these, even in the cold record of the printed page, must still have much of their original impressiveness and power.
Who knows what thoughts flooded the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as He found Himself the central figure of such memorable scenes as these? Who knows what thoughts were uppermost in His mind as He sat at breakfast beside the Lord Mayor of London, or was received with extraordinary deference by the Khedive himself in his palace, or as He listened to the cries of “Alláh-u-Abhá” and to the hymns of thanksgiving and praise that would herald His approach to the numerous and brilliant assemblages of His enthusiastic followers and friends organized in so many cities of the American continent? Who knows what memories stirred within Him as He stood before the thundering waters of Niagara, breathing the free air of a far distant land, or gazed, in the course of a brief and much-needed rest, upon the green woods and countryside in Glenwood Springs, or moved with a retinue of Oriental believers along the paths of the Trocadero gardens in Paris, or walked alone in the evening beside the majestic Hudson on Riverside Drive in New York, or as He paced the terrace of the Hotel du Parc at Thonon-les-Bains, overlooking the Lake of Geneva, or as He watched from Serpentine Bridge in London the 293 pearly chain of lights beneath the trees stretching as far as the eye could see? Memories of the sorrows, the poverty, the overhanging doom of His earlier years; memories of His mother who sold her gold buttons to provide Him, His brother and His sister with sustenance, and who was forced, in her darkest hours, to place a handful of dry flour in the palm of His hand to appease His hunger; of His own childhood when pursued and derided by a mob of ruffians in the streets of Ṭihrán; of the damp and gloomy room, formerly a morgue, which He occupied in the barracks of ‘Akká and of His imprisonment in the dungeon of that city—memories such as these must surely have thronged His mind. Thoughts, too, must have visited Him of the Báb’s captivity in the mountain fastnesses of Ádhirbayján, when at night time He was refused even a lamp, and of His cruel and tragic execution when hundreds of bullets riddled His youthful breast. Above all His thoughts must have centered on Bahá’u’lláh, Whom He loved so passionately and Whose trials He had witnessed and had shared from His boyhood. The vermin-infested Síyáh-Chál of Ṭihrán; the bastinado inflicted upon Him in Ámul; the humble fare which filled His kashkúl while He lived for two years the life of a dervish in the mountains of Kurdistán; the days in Baghdád when He did not even possess a change of linen, and when His followers subsisted on a handful of dates; His confinement behind the prison-walls of ‘Akká, when for nine years even the sight of verdure was denied Him; and the public humiliation to which He was subjected at government headquarters in that city—pictures from the tragic past such as these must have many a time overpowered Him with feelings of mingled gratitude and sorrow, as He witnessed the many marks of respect, of esteem, and honor now shown Him and the Faith which He represented. “O Bahá’u’lláh! What hast Thou done?” He, as reported by the chronicler of His travels, was heard to exclaim one evening as He was being swiftly driven to fulfil His third engagement of the day in Washington, “O Bahá’u’lláh! May my life be sacrificed for Thee! O Bahá’u’lláh! May my soul be offered up for Thy sake! How full were Thy days with trials and tribulations! How severe the ordeals Thou didst endure! How solid the foundation Thou hast finally laid, and how glorious the banner Thou didst hoist!” “One day, as He was strolling,” that same chronicler has testified, “He called to remembrance the days of the Blessed Beauty, referring with sadness to His sojourn in Sulaymáníyyih, to His loneliness and to the wrongs inflicted upon Him. Though He had often recounted that episode, that day He was so overcome with 294 emotion that He sobbed aloud in His grief…. All His attendants wept with Him, and were plunged into sorrow as they heard the tale of the woeful trials endured by the Ancient Beauty, and witnessed the tenderness of heart manifested by His Son.”
A most significant scene in a century-old drama had been enacted. A glorious chapter in the history of the first Bahá’í century had been written. Seeds of undreamt-of potentialities had, with the hand of the Center of the Covenant Himself, been sown in some of the fertile fields of the Western world. Never in the entire range of religious history had any Figure of comparable stature arisen to perform a labor of such magnitude and imperishable worth. Forces were unleashed through those fateful journeys which even now, at a distance of well nigh thirty-five years, we are unable to measure or comprehend. Already a Queen, inspired by the powerful arguments adduced by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the course of His addresses in support of the Divinity of Muḥammad, has proclaimed her faith, and borne public testimony to the Divine origin of the Prophet of Islám. Already a President of the United States, imbibing some of the principles so clearly enunciated by Him in His discourses, has incorporated them in a Peace Program which stands out as the boldest and noblest proposal yet made for the well-being and security of mankind. And already, alas! a world which proved deaf to His warnings and refused to heed His summons has plunged itself into two global wars of unprecedented severity, the repercussions of which none as yet can even dimly visualize.