from The Theosophist Oct 1976

Clara Codd: Some Impressions

by Hugh Shearman

When Bishop Leadbeater gave accounts of the past lives of any of his colleagues and acquaintances, what he described often seemed in some way to fit the individual whom one knew in this life.

Some will hold that this was evidence of objective truth in what Bishop Leadbeater described, others that what he wrote embodied at least a sound intuition.

The case of Clara Codd is a good example. Amusingly, Bishop Leadbeater allotted to her, as a reincarnating ego, the name of the constellation Pisces, the Fishes, making play of the fact that a cod is a kind of fish. Anybody who cares to trace the lives of Pisces, in the extensive tables given in The Lives of Alcyone., will find that the character with that name always had a different marriage partner in every life. Others might return to former partner, but Pisces always turned each time adventurously to somebody new.

This view of her past way of choice which the Lives offer serves admirably to express and symbolize something that was very deep in Clara Codd's nature. She was nobody's twin soul". In all that she did there was a quality that was deeply virginal. In a social and psychological sense, this arose naturally from her background, growing up as she did in late Victorian England in a family of many sisters who, incidentally, also joined and served the Theosophical Society. But the quality in her that may be called virginal was not merely social or psychological. It did not manifest itself in a separative sense nor in any false fastidiousness. It was the perpetual purity of motive of one who knew fundamentally where she was going and what she had to do.

With great gentleness she had also a great strength which came from not having to depend upon anybody. She could combine a caring and compassionate intimacy with an underlying attitude that was adventurously impersonal and universal. She shone with a clear gentle light for all alike, but for each very personally. There are so very few people who can be universal and detached in attitude without also seeming cold, but she was certainly one of the few.

It was this blending of the universally ideal and the immediately personal that made her much a wonderful platform presence and one of the greatest public speakers that the Theosophical Society has had. Her lectures were made up of thoughts and feelings which appealed to her as responding to human need. Theosophy for here was not an intellectual structure or an explanation. It was an affectionate answer to human need, human unhappiness, uncertainty, anxiety and sense of emptiness. It had to be given from the heart. At the same time, without being intellectual as the world understands intellectuality, she was deeply and confidently intelligent.

When she was young she was very beautiful, and it was impossible for any audience to escape the spell of her elusive femininity or withdraw their gaze from that expressive face. In old age she remained beautiful as old people are beautiful . A great kindliness shone from those lean feature, a kindliness that was always liable to be suffused at any moment by her keen sense of the absurd. Subtle but never unkind little hints of impishness lurked behind that face, and something confiding and amusingly girlish was conveyed by her oddly expressive habit of occasionally blinking or screwing up her eyes.

Her tall slender erect figure was nearly always clothed in black which gave her a certain austere elegance when she stood up to speak. She was benevolently amused at people who told her that black was a bad colour to wear, particularly if one was an occultist, and she assured them that she carried no blackness in her heart. Whatever somebody else might have said in some book about the occult blackness of the colour black, she was not going to abandon a style that she believed suited her and helped her to put herself across.

Many will remember that characteristic platform mannerism she had of holding her hand up as if to prevent the chairman form hearing a little private secret that she was seeming to share with every other individual present. It might be one of the deep truths of life, or it might be a light-hearted nothing; but she shared it with everybody individually.

Her audience were very dear to her and, while they listened to her, she gave them her wholehearted and very sensitive attention. One would find that, when a lecture was over, she had remembered individuals in the audience and wanted to be told about them. She would inquire about the nature of the anguish or disturbance that she knew must lately have come into the life of some person present at the back of the meeting, whom she had never seen before and would probably never see again, but whose condition she had accurately sensed.

Her love went particularly to simple people and the young. Photograph of other people's children, which many of us perhaps look at with courtesy rather than deep interest, were of lively interest to her. Years after she had stayed at somebody's home in the course of a lecture tour, she wanted news of that family and of its domestic staff and of the person who had cooked her meals there. She loved meeting people when on tour, and she corresponded with hundred of them, never forgetting individuals.

For a while in old age, because simple people appealed to her, she played with the idea of letting her declining years be cared for in a convent of Roman Catholic nuns whom she had got to know. She had found them a little dim in some respects, but sweet and beautiful and good in so much that is most important.

Her perpetual zest for people, the subdued exuberance of her love for human nature, made her sometimes a great gossip, though never an unkind one. She could regale a trusted listener with the most scandalous and hair-raising stories about past events and personalities in the Theosophical Society, telling them with the crashing candour and speculative innocence of a schoolgirl.

When in a old age she became very deaf, she sometimes asked people questions about others which they found acutely embarrassing to answer in the loud clear voice that had to be used to make her hear. Nobody seemed quite sure whether she did this in unconscious innocence or whether there was not in it a little touch of naughtiness, linked in turn to her keen enjoyment of the preposterousness of all human nature.

During the long years of her service to Theosophy, she gave her message to hundreds of thousands of people on every continent. Not only by her words but by what she was in herself, she told them that Theosophy is an experience of healing and of splendour, a balm of the sorrows of humanity, a pathway to fulfilment and peace. If one had cause to travel about within the Theosophical Society through the wide middle years of this century, one found what seemed to be a whole generation of earnest members who would tell how they had joined the Society after hearing a lecture by Clara Codd.

She published a number of small books, based in many cases on her own lecture notes. Most of these carry something of the flavour of her teaching and her presence and of her serene wisdom and good nature.

If one was to select one our of those books as revealing most fully what lay closest to her heart, and as indicating most clearly the foundations of her life, it would probably be the little book entitled The Consecrated Life, a short commentary on the hymn which contains the lines.

"Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee".

Her devotion, however, was not to any one specific form or shrine. She used to quote those words from a Mahatma letter - "Let the devotion and service be to that Supreme Spirit alone of which each one is a part". Her long life of work within the Theosophical Society was her expression of that dedication.


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