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The Strange Story of Thomas Breakwell

Thomas Breakwell

The Strange Story of Thomas Breakwell by Duane Troxel

The last line of a good poem often leaves me pondering its meaning. Sometime these meanings are revised as time passes. Poetry like revelation takes one deeper. It’s rare that the biography of an individual can also have that effect; especially when we know practically nothing about the details of that individual’s life. That’s how I feel about the life of Thomas Breakwell.

Two great souls recognized in Breakwell something ordinary eyes were incapable of perceiving. After Breakwell’s passing ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Son of the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, and One who is regarded as having been a Perfect Man, said He beheld Breakwell a shining light among the lights of Heaven and as one who met Baha’u’llah in the Realm of Glory. Shoghi Effendi, ‘Sign of God on Earth’ and Head of the Baha’i Faith for thirty-six years, said Thomas Breakwell was “one of the three luminaries shedding brilliant lustre (on the) annals (of the) Irish, English, (and) Scottish Baha’i communities”.

“Thomas Breakwell was born on 31 May 1872 in the small market town of Woking in Surrey. His father, Edward, was an ironmonger and an herbalist who, at some point during the 1860s, had joined the nonconformist Christian sect known as the primitive Methodists and subsequently held evangelical meetings in the family home. Thomas, the youngest of five children, was educated at an ordinary state school before his family emigrated to the United States.”

Breakwell found employment in a cotton mill in one of the Southern states. There he rose to an administrative level enabling him to live comfortably and to afford summer visits to his family in England and travel on the Continent.

In the summer of 1901 Thomas was on a steamer bound for France when he met a lady who spoke of a friend in Paris who had found something that had given new meaning to her life. The lady’s name was May Bolles.

From Left to Right - May Bolles and Edith MacKaye  © Duane TroxelFrom Left to Right - May Bolles and Edith MacKaye © Duane TroxelThomas arranged to meet Miss Bolles. Together they talked of Theosophy and other movements popular in those days, but May made no mention of her connection to the Baha’i Faith. Thomas asked if he might call again the next day and departed.

When Breakwell returned the next day he “was in a state of exultation”. He said, “When I was here yesterday I felt a power, an influence that I had felt once before in my life, when for a period of three months I was continually in communion with God.  I felt during that time like one moving in a rarefied atmosphere of light and beauty.  My heart was afire with love for the supreme Beloved, I felt at peace, at one with all my fellowmen. 

Arch of Triumph on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, FranceArch of Triumph on the Champs-Elysees, Paris, FranceYesterday when I left you I went alone down the Champs-Elysees, the air was warm and heavy not a leaf was stirring, when suddenly a wind struck me and whirled around me, and in that wind a voice said, with an indescribable sweetness and penetration, 'Christ has come again!  Christ has come again!'

Afterwards Thomas looked at May with wide, startled eyes, and asked her if she thought he was going insane. With a smile, she replied: 'No, you are just becoming sane.' She then spoke to him of the Bab, His exalted Mission, His martyrdom, and the thousands of Babis who sacrificed their lives to establish the Faith; she then told him of the coming of Baha'u'llah, the Blessed Beauty, 'Who shone upon the world as the Sun of eternity', and of His laws and teachings.”
Thomas Breakwell embraced the Cause of Baha’u’llah heart and soul. He penned his declaration of faith to the Master in these two lines:

Thomas Breakwell and May Bolles (Maxwell)Thomas Breakwell and May Bolles (Maxwell)'My Lord, I believe, forgive me,  Thy servant Thomas Breakwell.’
There’s a fascinating back story to Breakwell’s declaration. May had wanted to accompany her mother on a trip to Brittany but ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed May that she should not leave Paris for any reason. Before Breakwell’s letter of declaration could have reached ‘Akka, a cable came for May that read: “You may leave Paris at any time. Abbas.”
Breakwell learned from May her thrilling story of meeting the Master face to Face. After receiving permission for pilgrimage he set out for ‘Akka where ‘Abdu’l-Baha was then a Prisoner of the Ottoman Empire.

An account of Breakwell’s pilgrimage is recorded in the book Memories of Nine Years in 'Akka by Dr. Youness Khan Afroukhteh—‘Abdu’l-Baha’s secretary--who picks up the story of Breakwell in ‘Akka.

Because 1901 was the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s renewed incarceration Breakwell was only able to spend two days and two nights in the Master’s home in ‘Akka. Dr. Afroukhteh wrote, that Breakwell’s, “devotion, attraction and love were so intense that his blessed name shall endure for centuries in the annals of the Faith of God, while his wonderful life shall be retold in many accounts.”

Breakwell was deeply concerned about his connection to child labor through his work in the cotton mill. ‘Abdu’l-Baha instructed him to cable his resignation, which he did immediately. The Master advised him to return to Paris.

Back in Paris Breakwell became a ‘flame of fire’ in teaching. 'In the [Paris] meetings, he spoke with a simplicity and eloquence which won the hearts and quickened the souls, and the secret of his potent influence lay in his supreme recognition of the Manifestation of God in the Bab and in Baha'u'llah, and of the sublime Centre of the Covenant, 'Abdu'l-Baha.” Shortly thereafter he contracted tuberculosis.

Breakwell wrote from his hospital bed, 'Suffering is a heady wine; I am prepared to receive that bounty which is the greatest of all; torments of the flesh have enabled me to draw much nearer to my Lord.” Thomas taught his precious Faith to the nurses, doctors and all who attended him in the hospital. “Some of his listeners were upset by his message, others criticized it. But Thomas, unperturbed, maintained his tranquillity and told them that he was not going to die, but was merely departing for the Kingdom of God, and that he would pray for them in heaven.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha, Son of the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith‘Abdu’l-Baha, Son of the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i FaithOne day shortly thereafter the Master was walking with His secretary. Suddenly he turned and said, "Honoured Khan, have you heard?" I responded negatively. "Breakwell has ascended. I was heartbroken. I have written a moving Tablet of Visitation for him. I wrote it with such emotion that I wept as I wrote. You must translate it well so that he who reads it will not be able to hold back his tears." I never learned who had informed 'Abdu'l-Baha of his death. Whether the news had reached Him in English or French or whether it had been in the form of a written note or a telegram, I never discovered, although I would have been the recipient of all such correspondence.”

O Breakwell! my beloved! Where is thy beautiful countenance, and where is thy eloquent tongue? Where is thy radiant brow, and where is thy brilliant face?

O Breakwell! my beloved! Where is thy enkindlement with the fire of the Love of God, and where is thy attraction to the Fragrances of God? Where is thy utterance for the glorification of God, and where is thy rising in the service of God?

O my dear! O Breakwell! Where are thy bright eyes, and where are thy smiling lips? Where are thy gentle cheeks, and where is thy graceful stature?

Thomas Breakwell © Duane TroxelThomas Breakwell © Duane TroxelO my dear! O Breakwell! Verily thou hast abandoned this transitory world, and soared upward to the Kingdom, hast attained to the Grace of the Invisible Realm, and sacrificed thyself to the Threshold of the Lord of Might!

O my adored one! O Breakwell! Verily thou hast left behind this physical lamp, this human glass, these earthly elements, and this worldly enjoyment.

O my adored one! O Breakwell! Then thou hast ignited a light in the Glass of the Supreme Concourse, hast entered in the Paradise of ABHA; art protected under the shade of the Blessed Tree, and hast attained to the meeting (of the True One) in the abode of Paradise.

O my dearly-beloved! O Breakwell! Thou hast been a divine bird, and forsaking thy earthly nest, thou hast soared toward the Holy Rose-gardens of the Divine kingdom and obtained a Luminous Station, there!

O my dearly-beloved! O Breakwell! Verily thou art like unto the birds chanting the verses of thy Lord, the Forgiving, for thou wert a thankful servant; therefore thou hast entered (in the Realm Beyond) with joy and happiness!

O my beloved! O Breakwell! Verily thy Lord has chosen thee for His Love, guided thee to the Court of His Holiness; caused thee to enter into the Ridvan of His association and granted thee to behold His Beauty!

O my beloved! O Breakwell! Verily thou hast attained to the Eternal Life, never-ending bounty, beatific bliss and immeasurable Providence!

O my beloved! O Breakwell I Thou hast become a star in the Most Exalted Horizon, a lamp among the angels of heaven, a living spirit in the Supreme World, and art established upon the throne of immortality!

O my adored one! O my Breakwell! I supplicate God to increase thy nearness and communication, to make thee enjoy thy prosperity and union (with Him), to add to thy light and beauty and to bestow upon thee Glory and Majesty.

O my adored one! O my Breakwell! I mention thy name continually, I never forget thee, I pray for thee day and night, and I see thee clearly and manifestly--O my adored one! O Breakwell!”

Dr. Khan again picks up the story.

“One day I was summoned to the presence of 'Abdu'l-Baha to receive the incoming correspondence for translation. There were numerous envelopes from various cities, and as 'Abdu'l-Baha reviewed each sealed envelope He suddenly selected one of them and said, "What pleasant fragrance emanates from this envelope, open it quickly and see where it comes from. Hurry up." Since I had often experienced similar circumstances where a certain envelope was chosen by 'Abdu'l-Baha ahead of all the others, and these invariably contained significant spiritual matters, I hastily opened the envelope. Inside was a postcard and a sealed envelope. The gold-coloured handwriting on the colourful postcard, which had a single violet attached to it, read: "He is not dead, he lives in the Abha Kingdom." And there was the added note: "This flower was picked from Breakwell's grave."

As soon as I translated these words, 'Abdu'l-Baha suddenly leapt from His seat , seized the postcard, placed it on His blessed forehead and wept. I too was utterly overcome.”

This story becomes even more remarkable when we learn that Breakwell was a Baha’i for scarcely more than ONE YEAR.

Let us all pray that the story of Thomas Breakwell inspires us all to spiritual progress.

Duane TroxelDuane TroxelDuane Troxel is a member of the Bahá'í History and Scripture Factulty at the Wilmette Institute, Illinois, United States.

The Wilmette Institute is an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly, which operates as a center of learning, offering academic, professional, and service-oriented programs related to the Bahá'í Faith. It offers well-organized, formally conducted programs of training that are designed according to standards of academic excellence and the Bahá'í standard of independent investigation of truth in a spirit of humility, service, and unity. It seeks to contribute to the development of human resources within the Bahá'í community to advance the process of entry by troops. The Wilmette Institute's programs and services aim to enhance unity and fellowship among all people regardless of their ethnic, national, and religious background. Its services are available to students all over the world.

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