Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS THE FRIENDS OF RUSSIAN FREEDOM, AN American group, had been doing admirable work in enlightening the country about the nature of Russian absolutism. Now that society was inactive and the splendid efforts of the radical Yiddish press were confined entirely to the East Side. The sinister propaganda carried on in America by the representatives of the Tsar through the Russian Church, the Consulate, and the New York Herald, under the ownership of James Gordon Bennett, was widespread. These forces combined to picture the autocrat as a kind-hearted dreamer not responsible for the evils in his land, while the Russian revolutionists were denounced as the worst of criminals. Now that I had greater access to the American mind, I determined to use whatever ability I possessed to plead the heroic cause of Russian Revolution.
My efforts, together with the other activities in behalf of Russia, received very considerable support by the arrival in New York of two Russians, members of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, Rosenbaum and Nikolaev. They came unannounced and unheralded, but the work they accomplished was of far-reaching consequences and paved the way for the visits of a number of distinguished leaders of the Russian libertarian struggle. Within a few weeks after his arrival Rosenbaum succeeded in welding together the militant elements of the East Side into a section of the S. R. Although aware that this party did not agree with our ideas of a non-governmental society, I became a member of the group. It was their work in Russia that attracted me and compelled me to help in the labours of the newly formed society. Our spirits were greatly raised by the news of the approaching visit of Catherine Breshkovskaya, affectionately called Babushka, the Grandmother of the revolutionary Russia.
Those familiar with Russia knew of Breshkovskaya as one of the most heroic figures in that country. Her visit would therefore be an event of exceptional interest. We had no anxiety about her success with the Yiddish population --- her fame guaranteed it. But the American audiences knew nothing about her, and it might be difficult to get them interested. Nikolaev, who was very close to Babushka, informed us that she was coming to the States not only to raise funds, but also to arouse public sentiment. He visited me frequently to discuss methods of co-operating with the Friends of Russian Freedom. George Kennan was perhaps the only American who knew Babushka and who had written about her; Lyman Abbott, of the Outlook, was also interested. Nikolaev suggested that I see them. I laughed at his naïveté in believing that Emma Goldman could approach those ultra-respectable people. "If I go under my own name," I told him, "I should queer Breshkovskaya's chances, while under the obscure name of Smith I'd get no recognition at all." Alice Stone Blackwell came to my mind.
In 1902 1 had come across some translations of Russian poetry by Miss Blackwell, and later I had read her sympathetic articles about the Russian struggle. I had written her expressing my appreciation, and in her reply she had asked me to recommend someone who could translate Jewish poetry into English prose. I did so, and thereafter we continued in correspondence. I now wrote to Miss Blackwell about our efforts to get in touch with Americans in behalf of Russia, mentioning Nikolaev, who could give her detailed information about present conditions in his country. Miss Blackwell responded at once. She was soon to be in New York, she wrote; she would visit me and also bring with her the Honourable William Dudley Foulke, president of the recently reorganized Society of the Friends of Russian Freedom.
Foulke was an ardent devotee of Roosevelt. "The poor man is sure to have a stroke when he finds out who Miss Smith is," I remarked to Nikolaev. I had no worry about Miss Blackwell; she was of old New England stock and an energetic champion of liberty. She knew my identity. But Roosevelt's man --- what would happen when he came?" Nikolaev lightly dismissed my apprehensions, saying that in Russia the greatest revolutionists had worked under fictitious names.
Before long, Alice Stone Blackwell arrived, and while we were having tea, there came a knock at the door. I opened it to a short, stout man all out of breath after his climb of the five flights. "Are you Miss Smith?" he panted. "Yes," I replied brazenly; "you are Mr. Foulke, aren't you? Please come in." The good Rooseveltian Republican in Emma Goldman's flat at 210 East Thirteenth Street, sipping tea and discussing ways and means to undermine the Russian autocracy, would certainly have made a delicious story for the press. I took great care to keep the newspapers out of it, however, and the conspiratory session went off without a hitch. Both Miss Blackwell and the Hounourable William D. Foulke were much impressed by Nikolaev's account of the horrors in Russia.
Several weeks later Miss Blackwell informed me that a New York branch of the Friends of Russian Freedom had been organized, with the Reverend Minot J. Savage as president, and Professor Robert Erskine Ely as secretary, the body planning to do everything in its power to bring Mme Breshkovskaya before the American public. It was a quick and gratifying result of our little gathering. But Ely! I had met him during Peter Kropotkin's visit in 1901; an extremely timid man, he seemed, for ever in fear that his connexion with anarchists might ruin his standing with the backers of the League for Political Economy, of which he was head. To be sure, Kropotkin was an anarchist, but he was also a prince and a scientist, and he had lectured before the Lowell Institute. I felt that to Ely the prince was the important feature about Kropotkin. The British have royalty and love it, but some Americans love it because they would like to have it. It did not matter to them that Kropotkin had discarded his title in joining the revolutionary ranks. Dear Peter had been not a little shocked to discover it. I remembered the anecdote he had told us about his stay in Chicago, when his comrades had arranged for him to go to Waldheim to visit the graves of Parsons, Spies, and the other Haymarket martyrs. The same morning a group of society women, led by Mrs. Potter Palmer, invited him to a luncheon. "You will come, Prince, will you not?" they pleaded. "I am sorry, ladies, but I have a previous engagement with my comrades," he excused himself. "Oh, no, Prince; you must come with us!" Mrs. Palmer insisted. "Madam," Peter replied, "you may have the Prince, and I will go to my comrades."
My impression of Professor Ely made me feel that it would be better for his peace of mind, as well as for the work for Babushka, if he were not enlightened about E. G. Smith's identity. I was again obliged to act through an intermediary, as in the Turner case, remaining in the background. If timorous souls were deceived, it was not of my choosing; it was their narrow-mindedness that made it necessary.
When Catherine Breshkovskaya arrived, she was immediately surrounded by scores of people, many of them moved more by curiosity than by genuine interest in Russia. I did not wish to swell the number, and so I waited. Nikolaev had told her about me and she asked to see me.
The women in the Russian revolutionary struggle, Vera Zassulitch, Sophia Perovskaya, Jessie Helfman, Vera Figner, and Catherine Breshkovskaya, had been my inspiration ever since I had first read of their lives, but I had never met one of them face to face. I was greatly excited and awed when I reached the house where Breshkovskaya was staying. I found her in a barren flat, badly lighted and inadequately heated. Dressed in black, she was wrapped in a thick shawl, a black kerchief over her head, leaving the ends of her waving grey hair exposed. She gave the impression of a Russian peasant woman, except for her large grey eyes, expressive of wisdom and understanding, eyes remarkably youthful for a woman of sixty-two. Ten minutes in her presence made me feel as if I had known her all my life; her simplicity, the tenderness of her voice, and her gestures, all affected me like the balm of a spring day.
Her first appearance in New York was at Cooper Union and proved the most inspiring manifestation I had seen for years. Babushka, who had never before had a chance to face such a vast gathering, was somewhat nervous at first. But when she got her bearings, she delivered a speech that swept her audience off its feet. The next day the papers were practically unanimous in their tributes to the grand old lady. They could afford to be generous to one whose attack was levelled against far-off Russia instead of their own country. But we welcomed the attitude of the press because we knew that publicity would arouse interest in the cause Babushka had come to plead. Subsequently she spoke in French at the Sunrise Club before the largest assembly in the history of that body. I acted as interpreter, as I did also at most of the private gatherings arranged for her. One of these took place at 210 East Thirteenth Street and was attended by a crowd far too big for my small apartment. Ernest Crosby, Bolton Hall, the Coryells, Gilbert E. Roe, and many members of the University Settlement were other interests and activities. My dear Stella had come from Rochester present, among them Phelps Stokes, Kellogg Durland, Arthur Ballard, and William English Walling, as well as women prominent in radical ranks. Lillian D. Wald, of the Nurses' Settlement, responded warmly; she arranged receptions for Babushka and succeeded in interesting scores of people in the Russian cause.
Often after the late gatherings Babushka would come with me to my flat to spend the night. It was amazing to see her run up the five flights with an energy and vivacity that put me to shame. "Dear Babushka," I once said to her, "how have you been able to keep your youth after so many years of prison and exile?" "And how did you manage to retain yours, living in this soul-destroying, materialistic country?" she returned. Her long exile had never been stagnant; it was always rejuvenated by the stream of politicals passing through. "I had much to inspire and sustain me," she said; "but what have you in a country where idealism is considered a crime, a rebel an outcast, and money the only god?" I had no answer except that it was the example of those who had gone before, herself included, and the ideal we had chosen that gave us courage to persevere. The hours with Babushka were among the richest and most precious experiences of my propaganda life.
Our strenuous work for Russia at this time received additional significance by the news of the appalling tragedy of January 22 in St. Petersburg. Thousands of people, led by Father Gapon, assembled before the Winter Palace to appeal to the Tsar for relief, had been brutally mowed down, massacred in cold blood by the autocrat's henchmen. Many advanced Americans had held aloof from Babushka's work. They were willing enough to pay homage to her personality, her courage and fortitude; they were sceptical, however, about her description of conditions in Russia. Things could not be quite so harrowing, they claimed. The butchery on "Bloody Sunday" gave tragic significance and incontestable proof to the picture Babushka had painted. Even the lukewarm liberals could no longer close their eyes to the situation in Russia.
At the Russian New Year's ball we greeted the advent of 1905 standing in a circle, Babushka dancing the kazatchokwith one of the boys. It was a feast for the eyes to see the woman of sixty-two, her spirit young, cheeks ruddy, and eyes flashing, whirling about in the popular Russian dance.
In January Babushka went on a lecture tour, and I could turn to other interests and activities. My dear Stella had come from Rochester in the late fall to live with me. It had been her great dream to do so since early childhood. My narrow escape during the McKinley hysteria had changed the attitude of my sister Lena, Stella's mother, making her more kindly and affectionate towards me. She no longer begrudged me Stella's love, having learned to understand how deep was my concern for her child. Stella's parents realized that their daughter would have better opportunity for development in New York, and that she would be safe with me. I was happy in the anticipation of having my little niece, whose birth had brightened my dark youth. Yet when the long-awaited moment arrived, I was too busy with Babushka to give much time to Stella. The old revolutionist was captivated by my niece, and she in turn completely fell under Babushka's charm. Still we both longed to have more of each other, and now, with the departure of the revolutionary "Grandmother," we could at last come closer together.
Stella soon found a position as secretary to a judge, who would no doubt have died of horror had he known that she was the niece of Emma Goldman. I took up nursing again, but before long, Babushka returned from her Western tour and once more I had to devote my time to her and her mission. She had confided to me that she required a dependable person to be entrusted with the task of smuggling ammunition into Russia. I thought at once of Eric and I told her of the courage and endurance he had shown while digging the tunnel for Sasha. She was particularly impressed by the fact that Eric was an excellent sailor and capable of running a launch. "That would facilitate the transport through Finland and it would arouse less suspicion than if attempted by land," she had said. I put Babushka in touch with Eric. He made a most favourable impression on her. "Just the person needed for the job," she said, "cool-headed, brave, and a man of action." When she returned to New York, Eric accompanied her, arrangements for his sailing having already been made. It was good to see our jolly viking again before he left on his perilous journey.
Before the grand old lady's departure I gave her a farewell party 210 East Thirteenth Street, attended by her old friends and the many new ones the dear woman had made. She lent atmosphere to the evening, infecting everybody with her big and free spirit. There was no cloud on "Grandmother's" brow, although she knew, as we all did, what dangers she would face in returning to the lair of Russian autocracy.
Not until Babushka left the country did I realize how strenuous the month had been. I was utterly exhausted and unable to face the ordeal of nursing. I had realized for some time past that I could not keep up much longer the hard work, responsibility, and anxiety my profession involved while continuing my platform activities. I had tried taking cases of body massage, but I found them even more of a strain than nursing. I had spoken of my predicament to one of my American friends, a woman manicurist who was making a comfortable living by working only five hours a day in her own office. She suggested that I could do the same with facial and scalp massage. Many professional women needed it for the restfulness it gave them, and she would recommend her clients to me. It seemed absurd for me to engage in such a thing, but when I spoke to Solotaroff about it, he urged that it was the best thing I could do to earn my living and still have time left for the movement. My good friend Bolton Hall was of the same opinion; he at once offered to lend me money to fix up a place and also promised to be my first patient. "Even if your skill won't bring back hair on my head," he remarked, "I will have you pinned down for an hour to listen to my arguments on single tax." Some of my Russian friends saw the undertaking in a different light; a massage parlour would well serve, they thought, as a cover for the Russian work we were to go on with. Stella greatly favoured the idea because it would relieve me of the long hours of nursing. The result of it all was that I went in search of an office, which I found without much difficulty on the top floor of a building on Broadway at Seventeenth Street. It was a small place, but it had a view over the East River and plenty of air and sunlight. With the borrowed capital of three hundred dollars and a few lovely draperies lent me by women friends, I established myself in a very attractive parlour.
Before long, patients began to arrive. By the end of June I had earned enough to cover expenses and pay back part of my debt. It was hard work, but most of those who came for treatment were interesting people; they knew me and there was no need of hiding my identity. Still more important, I did not have to work in noisy, congested quarters, and I was relieved from the anxiety I used to feel over the probable outcome of my nursing cases. Every rise in the temperature of my charges used to alarm me, and a death would upset me for weeks. In all my years of nursing I had never learned detachment or indifference to suffering.
During the hot summer months many of my patients left for the country. Stella and I decided that we also needed a vacation. In our search for a suitable place we came upon Hunter Island, in Pelham Bay, near New York, as ideal a spot as we could wish for. But it belonged to the city and we had not the least notion how to secure the necessary permission to pitch a tent. Stella had an inspiration; she would ask her judge. A few days later she came triumphantly waving a piece of paper. " Now, darling," she cried, "will you still insist that judges are useless? Here is the permit to pitch a tent on Hunter Island!"
A friend of mine, Clara Felberg, together with her sister and brother, joined us. We were just beginning to settle down on our island and enjoy its peace and beauty when Clara brought back from New York the announcement that the Paul Orleneff troupe was stranded in the city. Its members had been thrown out of their apartment for failure to pay the rent, and they were without means of livelihood.
Pavel Nikolayevitch Orleneff and Mme Nazimova had come to America in the early part of 1905, taking the East Side by storm with their wonderful production of Tchirikov's The Chosen People. It was said that Orleneff had been prevailed upon by a group of writers and dramatists in Russia to take the play abroad as a protest against the wave of pogroms then sweeping Russia. The Orleneff troupe arrived at the very height of our activities for Babushka, which had prevented my getting in touch with the Russian players. But I had attended every performance. With the exception of Joseph Kainz, I knew no one to compare with Paul Orleneff, and even Kainz had created nothing so overwhelming as Orleneff's Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, or his Mitka Karamazov. His art was, like that of Eleonora Duse, the very living of every nuance of human emotion. Alla Nazimova was very fine as Leah in The Chosen People, as she was in all her rôles. As to the rest of the cast, nothing like its ensemble acting had ever been seen on the American stage before. It was therefore a shock to learn that Orleneff's troupe, who had given us so much, should find themselves stranded, without friends or funds. We might pitch a tent for Orleneff on our island, I thought, but how help his ten men? Clara promised to borrow some money, and within a week the entire troupe was on the island with us. It was a motley crowd and a motley life, and our hopes for a restful summer soon went by the board. During the day, when Stella and I had to return to the heat of the city, we regretted that Hunter Island had ceased to be a secluded spot. But at night, sitting around our huge bonfire, with Orleneff in the centre, guitar in hand, softly strumming an accompaniment to his own singing, the whole troupe joining in on the chorus, the strains echoing far over the bay as the large samovar buzzed, our regrets of the day were forgotten. Russia filled our souls with the plaint of her woe.
The spiritual proximity of Russia brought Sasha poignantly near. I knew how profoundly he would enjoy our inspiring nights; how he would be stirred and soothed by the songs of the native land he had always passionately loved. It was the month of July 1905. Just thirteen years before, he had left me to stake his life for our cause. His Calvary was soon to end, but only to continue in another place; he still had to serve another year in the workhouse. The judge who had added the extra year to the inhuman sentence of twenty-one now appeared more barbarous than on that trial day in September 1892. But for that, Sasha would be free now, out of the power of his jailers.
It somewhat lessened my misery to think that Sasha would have to spend only seven months in the workhouse, the Pennsylvania law granting five months' commutation on his final year. But even that consolation was soon destroyed. A letter from Sasha informed me that, though he was legally entitled to a five months' reduction, he had learned that the workhouse authorities had decided to regard him as a "new" prisoner and to allow him only two months' time off, provided his behaviour was "good." Sasha was to be forced to drain the bitter cup to the last drop.
Several months previously Sasha had sent to me a friend whom he called "Chum." His name was John Martin, I learned, and he was socialistically inclined. He was a civilian instructor in the prison weaving-shops; he had accepted the job less out of necessity than because he was planning to aid the prisoners. He had learned about Sasha shortly after he had come to work in the Western Penitentiary. Since then he had got in close touch with him and had been able to help him a little. I knew from Sasha's letters that the man used to take great risks in order to do kind things for him and others.
John Martin broached a new appeal to the Pardon Board, to get the year in the workhouse set aside. He could not bear to think that Alex, as he called Sasha, after so many years in one hell should have to go to another. I was deeply touched by Martin's beautiful spirit, but we had failed in our previous attempts to rescue Sasha and I was sure that we could expect no better success now. Moreover, I knew that he himself would not want it tried. He had endured thirteen years and I was certain he would prefer to stand the additional ten months rather than have to go begging again. My attitude was justified by a letter from Sasha. He wanted nothing from the enemy, he wrote.
The sickening anxiety of the days preceding his transfer was finally over. Two days later I received his last note from the penitentiary. It read:
It's Wednesday morning, the 19th, at last!
Geh stiller, meines Herzens Schlag
Und schliesst euch alle meine alten Wunden,
Denn dieses ist mein letzter Tag,
Und dies sind seine letzten Stunden! 1
My last thoughts within these walls are of you, dear friend, the Immutable.
Only ten months more to the 18th of May, the glorious day of liberation --- the day of your triumph, Sasha, and mine!
When I returned to our camp that afternoon, Orleneff was the first to notice my feverish excitement. "You look inspired, Miss Emma," he cried: "what wonderful thing has happened to you?" I told him about Sasha, of his youth in Russia, his life in America, his Attentat and long years in prison. "A character for a great tragedy!" Orleneff exclaimed enthusiastically; "to interpret him, to visualize him to the people --- I'd love to play the part!" It was balm to see the great artist so carried away by the force and beauty of Sasha's spirit.
Orleneff urged me to help him get in touch with my American friends, to be his interpreter and manager. Like the genius he was, he lived only in his art; he knew and cared for nothing else. It was enough to watch Orleneff saturate himself with the part he was to play, to realize how truly great an artist he was. Every nuance and shade of the character he was to interpret was created by him beforehand inch by inch, agonized over for weeks, until it assumed a complete and living form. In his efforts for perfection he was relentless with himself and equally so with his troupe. More than once in the middle of the night the obsessed creature would tear me out of my sleep by shouting and yelling outside my tent: "I have it! I have it!" Drowsy with sleep, I would inquire what the great find was, and it would prove to be a new inflection in Raskolnikov's monologue or some significant gesture in Mitka Karamazov's drunkenness. Orleneff was literally afire with inspiration. It gradually communicated itself to me, causing me to scheme how to make the world see his art as it was unfolded to me in the unforgettable weeks on Hunter Island.
For some time I could do little except take care of Pavel Nikolayevitch and his numerous guests. Several dependable newspapermen whom I knew interviewed Orleneff about his plans, and meanwhile work began on the Third Street hall that was being remodelled into a theatre. Orleneff insisted on going to town every day to direct this work, which necessitated disputes with the owner over every detail. Paul could not speak anything except Russian, and there was no one but myself to interpret for him. I had to divide my time between my office and the future theatre. In the late afternoon we would return to our island, half-dead with heat and fatigue, Orleneff a nervous wreck from the thousand petty irritations with which he was entirely unfitted to cope.
The superabundance of poison ivy on Hunter Island and the legions of mosquitoes finally drove us into the city. Only the troupe of sturdy peasant actors remained, compelled to defy both pests because they had no other place to go. After Labour Day the number of my patients increased and the preliminary work for the Russian performances began, involving a large correspondence and a personal canvass of my American friends. James Huneker, whom I had not seen for several years, promised to write about Orleneff, and other critics also pledged support. Our efforts were aided by a number of wealthy Jews, among them the banker Seligman.
The members of the East Side Committee on their return from the country set to work in earnest to fulfil their promise to Orleneff. There were readings of plays in some of their homes, especially at Solotaroff's and at Dr. Braslau's, the latter now the host of Pavel Nikolayevitch. Themselves the parents of an artist daughter, Sophie, who had already begun to train for an operatic career, Doctor and Mrs. Braslau could well understand the psychology and moods of their guest.
They had much feeling for him and patience, while some of the East Siders talked about him in terms of dollars and cents. The Braslaus were charming people, genuine, hospitable Russian souls; the evenings in their home always gave me a feeling of freedom and release.
The radical Jewish press actively aided the work of publicity. Abe Cahan, of the socialist daily Forward, often attended the readings of plays and wrote a great deal of the significance of Orleneff's art. Considerable publicity was also given him by the Freie Arbeiter Stimme and other East Side Yiddish papers.
The various activities, including my office work and lectures, filled my time. Nor did I neglect the friends who were wont to gather at my apartment. Among my many visitors were M. Katz and Chaim Zhitlovsky. Katz held a special place in my affections: he and Solotaroff had been my most faithful friends during my ostracism following the feud with Most and later again at the time of the McKinley hysteria. In fact, I had been thrown together with dear Katz much more than with Solotaroff, both in our work and in more intimate social gatherings.
Zhitlovsky had come to America with Babushka. A Socialist Revolutionist, he was also an ardent Judaist. He never tired urging upon me that as a Jewish daughter I should devote myself to the cause of the Jews. I would say to him that I had been told the same thing before. A young scientist I had met in Chicago, a friend of Max Baginski, had pleaded with me to take up the Jewish cause. I repeated to Zhitlovsky what I had related to the other: that at the age of eight I used to dream of becoming a Judith and visioned myself in the act cutting off Holofernes' head to avenge the wrongs of my people. But since I had become aware that social injustice is not confined to my own race, I had decided that there were too many heads for one Judith to cut off.
Our circle at 210 East Thirteenth Street was increased by the arrival from Chicago of Max, Millie, and their six-months-old baby girl. The State and Church champions of the sanctity of motherhood had shown their true colours as soon as they discovered that Millie had dared to become a mother without the permission of established authority. She was forced to give up her position as a teacher in the Chicago schools, which she had held for a number of years. It happened at a very unfortunate time, after Max had left the editorial staff of the Arbeiter Zeitung. The paper, founded by August Spies, had been gradually deserting its non-political policy. Max had for years fought the Socialist politicians who were trying to turn the Arbeiter Zeitung into a vote-catching medium. No longer able to endure the atmosphere of strife and intrigue, he had resigned.
Max hated the dehumanizing spirit of the city and its crushing grind. He longed for nature and the soil. Thanks to the generosity of my friend Bolton Hall, I found myself in a position to offer Max and his little family a small place in the country, three and a half miles out of Ossining, which Bolton had given me when I was being pestered by the landlords. "No one will be able to drive you out of it," he had said; "you can have it to use for the rest of your life, or you can pay for it when you strike a gold-mine." The house was old and shaky, and there was no water on the premises. But its rugged beauty and seclusion, and the gorgeous view from the hill, made up for what was lacking in comfort. With Hall's permission, Max, Millie, and their baby settled on the farm.
The number of my patients had increased considerably, among them being women representing fourteen different professions, besides men from every walk of life. Most of the women claimed to be emancipated and independent, as indeed they were in the sense that they were earning their own living. But they were paid for it by the suppression of the mainsprings of their natures; fear of public opinion robbed them of love and intimate comradeship. It was pathetic to see how lonely they were, how starved for male affection, and how they craved children. Lacking the courage to tell the world to mind its own business, the emancipation of the women was frequently more of a tragedy than traditional marriage would have been. They had attained a certain amount of independence in order to gain their livelihood, but they had not become independent in spirit or free in their personal lives.
1"Go slower, beating heart of mine-and close, ye bleeding wounds-this is my final day-and these its waning hours."
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