Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) had a double career as a professor of
political science and a humorist. At the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's visit to
Montreal (in 1912) he was head of the political science and economics
department at McGill University in that city. His collection of short
stories, Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, includes a parody
of 'Abdu'l-Bahá in the story "The Yahi-Bahi Society of Mrs. Resselyer-
The figure of Yahi-Bahi is recognizable to anyone familiar with Bahá'í
history: the man in exotic costume, speaking through an interpreter, using
such terms as Bahee, Boohoo, and Boohooism (the term Bahaism was in
common use at the time). It is not necessarily recognizable to those not
familiar with the Bahá'í Faith. Lynch's critical work on Leacock's humor,
which traces the sources of many of his ideas, does not make the
I am presenting a few excerpts from "Yahi-Bahi" with brief commentary
in the hope that someone with more time than I will research the
historical aspects of this story, including the following questions.
How did Leacock get the image of 'Abdu'l-Bahá as a con man? Was he
simply prejudiced against anything non-Christian and non-Western? Or
were there hostile rumors about 'Abdu'l-Bahá circulating in Montreal?
Ward's narrative of the Master's journey to North America mentions no
hostility there, but quotes nothing from the Montreal press. Did the
image simply blend in with occultists who made money by exploiting
people's gullibility --the type of people Harry Houdini loved to expose?
What was the source of Yahi-Bahi's curious melange of Hindu, Buddhist,
ancient Egyptian, and Islamic imagery? Was Leacock lampooning
Theosophy -- or perhaps the syncretistic ideas that were common among
Bahá'ís at the time?
Could Mrs. Resselyer-Brown have been derived from the famous
hyphenated Bahá'í, Keith Ransom-Kehler?
How did the Bahá'í community react to the story? Leacock had become
Canada's best-loved popular writer and undoubtedly had Bahá'ís among his
fans. I have been told that the Canadian NSA once persuaded a radio station
to remove the story from a program of readings from Leacock's works.
- Ralph Wagner, 2000
The first part of the story jokingly describes Mrs. Resselyer-Brown's
boring, hard-drinking husband and her intellectual daughter. To pass the
time, Mrs. Resselyer-Brown goes to such activities as the Dante Society,
the Bridge Club, and the Grand Opera. During a lull in the social life of
Plutoria Avenue, she and her friends learn of the presence in the city of
Mr. Yahi-Bahi, "the celebrated Oriental mystic," and has a conversation
with his assistant, Ram Spudd.
"What I like best about
eastern people," went on Mrs. Resselyer-Brown, is their wonderful
delicacy of feeling. After I had explained about my invitation to Mr. Yahi-
Bahi to come and speak to us on Boohooism, and was going away, I took a
dollar bill out of my purse and laid it on the table. You should have seen
the way Mr. Ram Spudd took it. He made the deepest salaam and said, 'Isis
guard you, beautiful lady.' Such perfect courtesy, and yet with the air of
scorning the money. As I passed out I couldn't help slipping another dollar
into his hand, and he took it as if utterly unaware of it, and muttered,
'Osiris keep you, O flower of women!' And as I got into the motor I gave
him another dollar and he said, 'Osis and Osiris both prolong your
existence, O lily of the rice-field'; and after he had said it he stood beside
the door of the motor and waited without moving till I left. He had such a
strange, rapt look, as if he were still expecting something!"
"How exquisite!" murmured Miss Snagg.
But for the time being the interest of Dulphemia, as of everybody else
that was anybody at all, centred round Mr. Yahi-Bahi and the new cult of
After the visit of Mrs. Resselyer-Brown a great number of ladies, also in
motors, drove down to the house of Mr. Yahi-Bahi. And all of them, whether
they saw Mr. Yahi-Bahi himself or his Bengalee assistant, Mr. Ram Spudd,
came back delighted.
"Such exquisite tact!" said one. "Such delicacy! As I was about to go I laid
a five-dollar gold piece on the edge of the little table. Mr. Spudd scarcely
seemed to see it. He murmured, 'Osiris help you!' and pointed to the ceiling.
I raised my eyes instinctively and when I lowered them the money had
disappeared. I think he must have caused it to vanish."
"Oh, I'm sure he did," said the listener.
Others came back with wonderful stories of Mr. Yahi-Bahi's occult
powers, especially his marvelous gift of reading the
One example of Yahi-Bahi's prophecies: "Many
things are yet to happen before others begin."
So Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd are invited to the founding meeting of the
Yahi-Bahi Oriental Society. The foibles of various of its members are
described before the hero's arrival.
Mr. Yahi-Bahi was tall.
His drooping oriental costume made him taller still. He had a long brown
face and liquid brown eyes of such depth that when he turned them full
upon the ladies before him a shiver of interest and apprehension followed
in the track of his glance.
"My dear," said Miss Snagg afterwards, "he seemed simply to see right
This was correct. He did.
Mr. Ram Spudd presented a contrast to his superior. He was short and
round, with a dimpled mahogany face and eyes that twinkled in it like
little puddles of molasses. His head was bound in a turban and his body
was swathed in so many bands and sashes that he looked almost circular.
The clothes of both Mr. Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd were covered with the
mystic signs of Buddha and the seven serpents of Vishnu.
Mr. Snoop, a member of the club, gives the opening speech and later serves
as interpreter for Yahi-Bahi.
All of this Mr. Snoop explained
in the opening speech which he proceeded to make. And after this he went
on to disclose, amid deep interest, the general nature of the cult of
Boohooism. He said that they could best understand it if he told them that
its central doctrine was that of Bahee. Indeed, the first aim of all
followers of the cult was to attain to Bahee. Anybody who could spend a
certain number of hours each day, say sixteen, in silent meditation on
Boohooism would find his mind gradually reaching a condition of Bahee.
The chief aim of Boohoo itself was sacrifice: a true follower of the cult
must be willing to sacrifice his friends, or his relatives, and even
strangers, in order to reach Bahee. In this way one was able fully to
realise oneself and enter into the Higher Indifference. Beyond this, further
meditation and fasting -- by which was meant living solely on fish, fruit,
wine, and meat -- one presently attained to complete Swaraj or Control of
Self, and might in time pass into the absolute Nirvana, or the Negation of
Emptiness, the supreme goal of Boohooism.
As a first step to all this, Mr. Snoop explained, each neophyte or candidate
for holiness must, after searching his own heart, send ten dollars to Mr.
Yahi-Bahi. Gold, it appeared was recognised in the cult of Boohooism as
typifying the three chief virtues, whereas silver or paper money did not;
even national bank-notes were only regarded as dó or, a
half-way palliation; and outside currencies such as Canadian or Mexican
bills were looked upon as entirely boo, or contemptible. The
Oriental view of money, said Mr. Snoop, was far superior to our own, but it
also might be attained by deep thought, and, as beginning, by sending ten
dollars to Mr. Yahi-Bahi.
After this Mr. Snoop, in conclusion, read a very beautiful Hindu poem,
translating it as he went along. It began, "O cow, standing beside the
Ganges, and apparently without visible occupation," and was voted
exquisite by all who heard it. The absence of rhyme and the entire removal
of ideas marked it as far beyond anything reached as yet by Occidental
After this the society was declared constituted, Mr. Yahi-Bahi made four
salaams, one to each point of the compass, and the meeting dispersed.
And that evening, over fifty dinner tables, everybody discussed the nature
of Bahee, and tried in vain to explain it to men too stupid to
The next major event is the "reastralisation
of Buddha," which draws the members to the home of Mrs. Resselyer-
Brown at midnight.
"Has it ever been done before?" they asked
of Mr. Snoop.
"Only a few times," he said; "once, I believe, by Jam-bum, the famous Yogi
of the Carnatic; once, perhaps twice, by Boohoo, the founder of the sect.
But it is looked upon as extremely rare. Mr. Yahi tells me that the great
danger is that, if the slightest part of the formula is incorrectly observed,
the person attempting the astralisation is swallowed up into nothingness.
However, he declares himself willing to try."
are instructed to bring gold ornaments, which are deposited on a table, and
furs, which are piled in the corridor.
"What is he doing?"
whispered the assembled guests as they saw Mr. Yahi-Bahi pass across the
darkened room and stand in front of the sideboard.
"Hush!" said Mr. Snoop; "he's laying the propitiatory offering for
"It's an Indian rite," whispered Mrs. Resselyer-Brown. Mr. Yahi-Bahi could
be seen dimly moving to and fro in front of the sideboard. There was a
faint clinking of glass.
"He has to set out a glass of Burmese brandy, powdered over with nutmeg
and aromatics," whispered Mrs. Resselyer-Brown. I had the greatest hunt
to get it all for him. He said that nothing but Burmese brandy would do,
because in the Hindu religion the god can only be invoked with Burmese
brandy, or, failing that, Hennessy's with three stars, which is not entirely
displeasing to Buddha."
"The aromatics," whispered Mr. Snoop, are supposed to waft a perfume or
incense to reach the nostrils of the god. The glass of propitiatory wine and
the aromatic spices are mentioned in the Vishnu-Buddayat."
Mr. Yahi-Bahi, his preparations completed, was now seen to stand in front
of the sideboard bowing deeply four times in an Oriental salaam. The light
of the single taper had by this time burned so dim that his movements
were vague and uncertain. His body cast great flickering shadows on the
half-seen wall. From his throat there issued a low wail in which the word
wah! wah! could be distinguished.
The excitement was intense.
"What does 'wah' mean?" whispered Mr. Spillikins?
"Hush!" said Mr. Snoop; "it means, 'O Buddha, wherever thou art in thy lofty
Nirvana, descend yet one in astral form before our eyes!'"
Mr. Yahi-Bahi rose. He was seen to place one finger on his lips and then,
silently moving across the room, he disappeared behind the screen. Of
what Mr. Ram Spudd was doing during this period there is no record. It was
presumed that he was still praying.
The stillness was now absolute.
"We must wait in perfect silence," whispered Mr. Snoop from the extreme
tips of his lips.
Everybody sat in strained intensity, silent, looking towards the vague
outline of the sideboard.
The minutes passed. No one moved. All were spellbound in expectancy.
Still the minutes passed. The taper had flickered down till the great room
was almost in darkness.
Could it be that by some neglect in the preparations, the substitution
perhaps of the wrong brandy, the astralisation could not be effected?
Quite suddenly, it seemed, everybody in the darkened room was aware of a
presence. That was the word as afterwards repeated in a hundred
confidential discussions. A presence. One couldn't call it a body. It
wasn't. It was a figure, an astral form, a presence.
"Buddha!" they gasped as they looked at it.
Just how the figure entered the room, the spectators could never
afterwards agree. Some thought it appeared through the wall, deliberately
astralising itself as it passed through the bricks. Others seemed to have
seen it pass in at the further door of the room, as if it had astralised
itself at the foot of the stairs in the back of the hall outside.
Be that as it may, there it stood before them, the astralised shape of the
Indian deity, so that to every lip there rose the half-articulated word,
"Buddha"; or at least to every lip except that of Mrs. Resselyer-Brown.
From her there came no sound.
The figure as afterwards described was attired in a long
shirák, such as is worn by the Grand Lama of Tibet, and
resembling, if the comparison were not profane, a modern dressing-gown.
The legs, if one might so call them, of the apparition were enwrapped in
loose punjahamas, a word which is said to be the origin of the modern
pyjamas; while the feet, if they were feet, were encased in loose
Buddha moved slowly across the room. Arrived at the sideboard the astral
figure paused, and even in the uncertain light Buddha was seen to raise and
drink the propitiatory offering. That much was perfectly clear. Whether
Buddha spoke or not is doubtful. Certain of the spectators thought that he
said, "Must a fagotnit," which is Hindustanee for "Blessings on this
house." To Mrs. Resselyer-Brown's distracted mind it seemed as if Buddha
said, "I must have forgotten it." But this wild fancy she never breathed to
Silently Buddha recrossed the room, slowly wiping one arm across his
mouth after the Hindu gesture of farewell.
For perhaps a full minute after the disappearance of Buddha not a soul
moved. Then quite suddenly Mrs. Resselyer-Brown, unable to stand the
tension any longer, pressed an electric switch and the whole room was
flooded with light.
There sat the affrighted guests staring at one another's pale faces.
But, to the amazement and horror of all, the little table in the centre
stood empty -- not a single gem, not a fraction of the gold that had lain
upon it was left. All had disappeared.
The truth seemed the burst upon everyone at once. There was no doubt of
what had happened.
The gold and the jewels had been deastralised. Under the occult power of
the vision they had been demonetised, engulfed into the astral plane along
with the vanishing Buddha.
Filled with the sense of horror still to come, somebody pulled aside the
little screen. They fully expected to find the lifeless bodies of Mr. Yahi-
Bahi and the faithful Ram Spudd. What they saw before them was more
dreadful still. The outer Oriental garments of the two devotees lay strewn
upon the floor. The long sash of Yahi-Bahi and the thick turban of Ram
Spudd were side by side near them; almost sickening in its repulsive
realism was the thick black head of hair of the junior devotee, apparently
torn from his scalp as if by lightning and bearing a horrible resemblance
to the cast-off wig of an actor.
The truth was too plain.
"They are engulfed!" cried a dozen voices at once. It was realised in a
flash that Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd had paid the penalty of their daring
with their lives. Through some fatal neglect, against which they had fairly
warned the participants of the seance, the two Orientals had been carried
bodily in the astral plane.
"How dreadful!" murmured Mr. Snoop. We must have made some awful
"Are they deastralised?" murmured Mrs. Buncomhearst.
"Not a doubt of it," said Mr. Snoop.
And then another voice in the group was heard to say, "We must hush it up.
We can't have it known!"
On which a chorus of voices joined in, everybody urging that it must be
Couldn't you try to reastralise them?" said somebody to Mr. Snoop.
"No, no," said Mr. Snoop, still shaking. "Better not try to. We must hush it
up if we can."
And the general assent to this sentiment shewed that after all the
principles of Bahee, or Indifference to Others, had taken a real root in the
The police are waiting, however, and arrest
Yahi-Bahi and Ram Spudd. The police explain that this is the fourth city in
which they have pulled this scam since their release from prison six
The Yahi-Bahi Society dissolves, but the members remain convinced that
they have seen a reastralisation of Buddha.
Nor was anyone
more emphatic on this point than Mrs. Resselyer-Brown herself.
"For after all," she said, "if it was not Buddha, who was it?"
And the question was never answered.
 Stephen Leacock, "The Yahi-Bahi Society of Mrs. Resselyer-Brown,"
in Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (New York: John Lane,
 Gerald Lynch, Stephen Leacock: Humor and Humanity (Kingston
and Montreal: McGill University Press, 1988), 140-45.
 Allan L. Ward, 239 Days: 'Abdu'l Baha's Journey in America (Wilmette,
IL: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979), 131-37.
 Leacock, "The Yahi-Bahi Society," 128-29.
 Ibid., 131-32.
 Ibid., 132.
 Ibid., 136-37.
 Ibid., 137-39.
 Ibid., 139.
 Ibid., 143.
 Ibid., 146-52.
 Ibid., 155.