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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/141

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Oliphant
Oliphant
135

an appointment as first secretary of legation in Japan. He arrived at Yeddo at the end of June 1861. On the evening of 5 July a night attack was made on tne embassy. Oliphant rushed out with a hunting-whip, and was attacked by a Japanese with a heavy two-handed sword. A beam, invisible in the darkness, interfered with the blows, but Oliphant was severely wounded, and sent on board ship to recover. He had to return to England after a visit to the Corea, where he discovered a Russian force occupying a retired bay, and obtained their retirement.

Visits to Corfu with the Prince of Wales, then on his way to Palestine, and afterwards to the Herzegovina and the Abruzzi, were his only occupations in 1862. He was now compelled by 'family considerations' to retire from the diplomatic service. Early in 1863 he ran over to look at the insurrection in Poland, and later in the year made another attempt, but was turned back. He then travelled in Moldavia, and went northwards to see a little of the Schleswig-Holstein war. He was now disposed to settle down. He had already once or twice canvassed the Stirling Burghs, and made himself popular with the electors. In 1864 he joined Sir Algernon Borthwick and some other friends in starting a journal called 'The Owl,' of which Thomas Onwhyn [q. v.] was the publisher. It was suggested at a dinner-party in fun, and was intended to be partly a mystification, supported by an affected knowledge of profound political secrets. Sir Alffemon Borthwick undertook to print it, and it caused much amusement to the initiated. Oliphant contributed only to the first ten numbers, retiring when it was taken up more seriously. In the following year he published 'Piccadilly: a Fragment of Contemporary Biography,' in 'Blackwood's Magazine ' (republished, with illustrations by K. Doyle, in 1870).

In 1865 Oliphant was returned at the general election for the Stirling Burghs. He did little in parliament, and was not much edified, it appears, by the manoeuvres which attended the passage of the Reform Bill of 1867. A singular change now took place in his life. His rambling and adventurous career had given him much experience, but had not made up for a desultory education. He loved excitement,was a universal favourite in society, and had had flirtations in every quarter of the globe. He was a clear-headed man of business, had seen the mysteries of official life, and was a brilliant journalist. From his earliest years, however, he had also strong religious impressions, and in his letters to his motnerspeculations upon his own state of mind and the various phenomena of religions of all varieties had alternated with sparkling descriptions of adventure and society. He had been interested successively in many of the books which reflect contemporary movements of thought. He had read Theodore Parker, W. Smith's 'Thomdale,' Maurice's writings, and Morell's 'History of Philosophy.' His want of intellectual ballast, however, left him at the mercy of any pretender to inspiration. His oflicial and social experience had dispersed many illusions, and his 'Piccadilly,' very brightly written, is not a novel proper, but a satire directed against the various hypocrisies and corruptions of society. He had come, he says, to think that the world at large was a ' lunatic asylum,' a common opinion among persons not themselves conspicuous for sanity. He mentions in it ' the greatest poet of the age, Thomas Lake Harris,' author of 'The Great Republic : a Poem of the Sun.' Harris is also typified in a mysterious prophet who meets the nero, and was, in fact, the head of a community in America. The creed appears to have been the usual mixture of scraps of misunderstood philosophy and science, with peculiar views about 'physical sensations' caused by the life of Christ m man, and a theory that marriage should be a Platonic relation. Oliphant had also some belief in 'spiritualism,' though he came to regard it as rather diabolical than divine. In 1867 he resided his seat in parliament, and joined Harris's community at Brocton, or 'Salem-on-Erie.' Harris was in the habit of casting out devils and forming magnetic circles among his disciples. Oliphant became his spiritual slave. He was set to work on the farm, was ordered to drive teams and 'cadge strawberries on the railway,' and, after walking all day, was sent out at night to draw water Hill his fingers were almost frost-bitten.' He made over all his money to the community. Oliphant's mother also joined the community in 1868, and, though living at the same place, was not allowed to hold any confidential communication with him. After going through this probation the disciples were to regenerate the world, and mother and son are said to have 'found perfect peace and contentment.' In 1870 Oliphant returned under Harris's orders, and was supported by a small allowance. He resumed his former occupation by becoming ' Times ' correspondent in the Franco-German war. He was with the French and afterwards with the German armies, and suddenly returned to America, in obedience, it is said, to a sign prescribed by Harris — namely, by a bullet grazing his hair. He soon came back, how-