Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
THE NEWS OF THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION OF OCTOBER 1905 WAS electrifying and carried us to ecstatic heights. The many tremendous events that had happened since the massacre in front of the Winter Palace had kept us in far-away America in constant tension. Kalayev and Balmashov, members of the Fighting Organization of the Social Revolutionary Party, had taken the lives of Grand Duke Sergius and Shipiaghin in retaliation for the butchery of January 22. Those acts had been followed by a general strike throughout the length and breadth of Russia, participated in by large sections from every stratum in society. Even the most insulted and degraded human beings, the prostitutes, had made common cause with the masses and had joined the general strike. The ferment in the Tsar-ridden land had finally come to a head; the subdued social forces and the pent-up suffering of the people had broken and had at last found expression in the revolutionary tide that swept our beloved Matushka Rossiya. The radical East Side lived in a delirium, spending almost all of its time at monster meetings and discussing these matters in cafés, forgetting political differences and brought into close comradeship by the glorious events happening in the fatherland.
It was at the very height of those events that Orleneff and his troupe made their first appearance in the little theatre on Third Street. Who cared if the place was ugly, the acoustics unspeakably bad, the stage too small to move about on, the scenery atrociously painted, the incongruous properties borrowed from a dozen different friends? We were too full of new-born Russia, too inspired by the thought of the great artists that were to depict for us the dreams of life. When the curtain rose for the first time, triumphant joy rolled like thunder from the audience to the people on the stage. It raised them to heights of artistic expression that surpassed anything they had done before.
The little theatre became an oasis in New York dramatic art. Hundreds of Americans attended the performances, and even though they did not understand the language, they were carried away by the magic of the Orleneff troupe. Sunday evenings were professional nights, the theatre filled to overflowing with theatre-managers and men and women of the stage. Ethel Barrymore and her brother John, Grace George, Minnie Maddern Fiske and Harrison Grey Fiske, her husband, Ben Greet, Margaret Anglin, Henry Miller, and scores of others, besides every writer and critic in town, were frequent guests. "Miss Smith," as Orleneff's manager, received them, took them backstage to see the idol, and interpreted their compliments to him, taking care, however, not always to render his replies.
On one occasion, at an after-theatre party given for Orleneff and Mme Nazimova by a certain very prominent theatre-manager, the host began asking Orleneff some rather peculiar questions: "Why do you hold your head in such a queer way in the part of Oswald, when you first appear on the stage? . . . Don't you think it would be more effective if you could cut the talk of that guy in Crime and Punishment? . . . Couldn't you make more money if you gave plays with happy endings? " I transmitted the questions all at once. "Tell the man he's a fool!" Orleneff cried, his brows drawn angrily together; "tell him he should be a chimney-sweep and not a theatre-manager. Tell him to go to hell!" He let loose a deluge of Russian oaths too spicy for the respectable Anglo-Saxon ear. Nazimova sat tense, talking French and pretending not to hear, yet watching me stealthily out of large and anxious eyes. My interpretation of Orleneff's outburst was somewhat "diplomatic."
The Russian Revolution had barely begun to flower when it was thrust back into the depths and stifled in the blood of the heroic people. Cossack terror stalked through the land, torture, prison, and the gallows doing their deadly work. Our bright hopes turned to blackest despair. The whole East Side profoundly felt the tragedy of the crushed masses.
The renewed massacres of Jews in Russia brought tears and sorrow to numerous Jewish homes in America. In their disappointment and bitterness, even advanced Russians and Jews turned against everything Russian, and as a result the audience at the little theatre began to dwindle. And then, out of the darkness of some slimy corner, came hideous whispers that Orleneff had members of the Black Hundred, the organized Russian Jew-baiters, in his troupe. A veritable boycott followed. No Jewish store, restaurant, or café would accept posters or advertisements of the Russian plays. The radical press protested vehemently against these utterly unfounded rumours, but without effect. Orleneff was heart-broken over the malicious charges. He had put his very soul into Nachman, the hero of The Chosen People, and had pleaded for the Russian cause. Ruin was staring him in the face, with creditors pressing on every side, and the performances barely paying for rent.
Orleneff had once told me of a testimonial performance that had been arranged for him and Mme Nazimova in London by Beerbohm Tree. It had been a brilliant affair, attended by the most distinguished men and women of the British stage. It occurred to me that we might try a similar plan in New York. It would help raise the desperately needed money and perhaps also calm the troubled waters of the East Side, for I knew from years of experience the effect of American opinion upon the immigrant members of my race. I accompanied Orleneff to Arthur Hornblow, editor of the Theatre Magazine, who had repeatedly expressed his admiration for the Russian troupe. Mr. Hornblow also knew the person behind Miss Smith and had always been very charming to that dangerous individual.
Mr. Hornblow gave us a royal welcome. He liked the idea of the testimonial and he suggested that the three of us call on Harrison Grey Fiske, lessee of the Manhattan Theatre and successful manager of Mrs. Fiske. Mr. Fiske was interested immediately; he would give us all the help we needed and he also would induce his wife to participate. But he could not offer us the theatre; it had been condemned by the building-department and was soon to be torn down. The interview over, Mr. Hornblow asked us to wait in the hall, as he had something private to say to Mr. Fiske. Soon the latter came out of his office and, placing both hands on my shoulders, cried: "Emma Goldman, aren't you ashamed of yourself to come to me under an assumed name? Don't you know that Mrs. Fiske and I have always been denounced as rebels and troublemakers because we introduce modern plays and refuse to bow to the theatre trust? Miss Smith, indeed! Who the hell is Miss Smith? Emma Goldman --- that's the girl! Now shake, and don't ever doubt me again."
More help and encouragement came from other quarters. Four matinées in the Criterion Theatre and two out-of-town engagements--Boston for a week, and Chicago for a fortnight--put new life into the Russian troupe. The matinées were made possible by a group of American women, admirers of Orleneff, the most active among them being Ethel Barrymore and two society women, cousins of President Roosevelt.
The Boston and Chicago engagements took considerable correspondence to materialize. When everything was ready, Orleneff insisted that I accompany the troupe. In Boston it was the Twentieth Century Club that did the most to aid Orleneff and Nazimova. At the various receptions given in their honour by the club I met Professor Leo Wiener and other Harvard men, Mrs. Ole Bull, who was very active for the success of the troupe, Mr. Nathan Haskell Dole, the translator of Russian works, Dr. Konikov, and scores of other leading Bostonians.
Chicago proved to be much more satisfactory. The social groups of the city backing the venture, including the Jewish and Russian radicals, combined to fill the Studebaker Theatre night after night. Notwithstanding the numerous social affairs, I repeatedly managed to steal away to deliver lectures arranged by my comrades. My "double" life would have shocked many a Puritan, but I led it quite bravely. I had got used to shedding the skin of Miss Smith and wearing my own, but on several occasions the process failed to work.
The first time was when Orleneff and his leading lady were invited to the home of Baron von Schlippenbach, the Russian consul. I told Orleneff that not even for his sake could Emma Goldman be comfortable, in any guise, under the roof of a person that represented the Russian imperial butcher. Another occasion was in connexion with the Hull House. I had met Jane Addams as E. G. Smith at the office of the Studebaker Theatre when she had come to order seats. It had been a business transaction, on neutral ground, calling for no enlightenment as to my identity. But to come to her sanctum under an assumed name, when she herself was supposed to stand for advanced social ideas, seemed an unfair advantage and was distasteful to me. I therefore called up Miss Addams to tell her that Miss Smith could not attend her Orleneff party, but that Emma Goldman would, if welcome. I could hear by the catch in her breath that the disclosure had been made somewhat too suddenly.
When I related the incident to Orlenoff, he got very angry. He knew that Jane Addams had made a great fuss over Kropotkin during his visit in Chicago, that she had hung her place with the Russian peasant work, and that she and her helpers had worn Russian peasant costumes. How could she, then, object to me, he wondered. I explained that Peter, who hated display of any kind, certainly had had nothing to do with the Russianization of Hull House; furthermore, I did not happen to be known to Miss Addams as a princess.
There were other receptions for my Russians, one at the University, the other at the home of Mrs. L. C. Counley-Ward. I attended both of them under my safe passport. Mrs. Ward lived on the lake front in a palatial home. There was a large crowd at the party, more curious than interested. The hostess herself was very unpretentious and most charming. It was, however, her mother, a woman of eighty, a sweet and distinguished-looking lady, who won my heart. In simple manner she entertained us with an account of her exploits in the abolition movement and in the pioneer work for woman's emancipation. Her flushed face and bright eyes evidenced that she still preserved the rebellious spirit of her youth, and I felt uncomfortable to have stolen into her gracious presence under a false name. The next day I wrote her and her daughter asking forgiveness for my deception and explaining the reason that compelled me to live and work under a pseudonym. I received beautiful letters from both of them, saying that they had understood it was Emma Goldman who had honoured their home. For a number of years thereafter we kept in touch with each other.
Upon our return to New York, Orleneff informed me that he would like to remain in America for several seasons if a guarantee fund could be raised. I submitted the idea to some of the people interested in the Russian troupe. At the end of several conferences sixteen thousand dollars was raised and more pledged. Someone suggested that Orleneff go under the management of Charles Frohman. Orleneff felt outraged; he had never submitted to such a yoke in Russia, he declared; much less would he do it in America. There was only one manager he would recognize, and that was "Miss Emma." He knew that I would never attempt to interfere, as the ordinary manager usually does, with what he was to play or how.
The disappointment over the committee's determination to change his management, and the decision of Mme Nazimova to remain in America and prepare herself for the English stage, had a very depressing effect on Orleneff. He was so set on leaving the country that he would no longer continue with the testimonial we had planned.
During my connexion with his work Orleneff had often urged me to accept a salary. At no time had there been enough money in his treasury for such an extra expense, and he always insisted that the company be paid first, even when he and Nazimova had to go short. The little they did get was due entirely to her resourcefulness. Out of almost nothing at all and with the help of only her Russian maid Alla Nazimova managed to create all the costumes, not alone for herself, but for the whole troupe; thus also were all the court dresses for Tsar Feodor, rich and colourful as they were, made by her. But small as the returns were, Orleneff wanted me to have a share in them. I had refused because I had been earning my living, and I could not bear to be an additional burden. Orleneff had once asked me what I would like to do most if I had money, and I had replied that I should want to publish a magazine that would combine my social ideas with the young strivings in the various art forms in America. Max and I had often discussed such a venture, greatly needed. It had been our cherished dream for a long time, though apparently hopeless. Now Orleneff broached the matter again, and I submitted my plan to him. He offered to give a special performance for the purpose and promised to see Nazimova about playing Strindberg's Countess Julia, a drama she had always wanted to present with him. He did not care particularly for the part of Jean, he said, but "You have done so much for me," he added, "I will stage the piece."
Before long, Orleneff had set a definite date for the performance. We rented the Berkeley Theatre, printed announcements and tickets, and, with the help of Stella and a few young comrades, set to work to fill the house. At the same time we arranged a gathering at 210 East Thirteenth Street, to which we invited a number of people we knew would be interested in the magazine venture we had in mind: Edwin Björkman, the translator of Strindberg, Ami Mali Hicks, Sadakichi Hartmann, John R. Coryell, and some of our comrades. When our friends left that night, the expected child had a name, The Open Road, as well as foster-parents and a host of others anxious to help in its care.
I walked on air. At last my preparatory work of years was about to take complete form! The spoken word, fleeting at best, was no longer to be my only medium of expression, the platform not the only place where I could feel at home. There would be the printed thought, more lasting in its effect, and a place of expression for the idealists in art and letters. In The Open Road they should speak without fear of the censor. Everybody who longed to escape rigid moulds, political and social prejudices, and petty moral demands should have a chance to travel with us in The Open Road.
Amidst the rehearsals of Countess Julia a swarm of creditors descended upon Orleneff. They had him arrested and the theatre closed, and I had to drop my work to find bondsmen and someone to pay his rent. When things were arranged and Orleneff released, he was too distressed by his experience to continue the rehearsals. There were only two weeks left before the opening night, and I knew he would not go on the stage unless he was sure of his part. To relieve his misery I suggested that he give some other play in which he had already appeared. We agreed on Ghosts, the character of Oswald being among Orleneff's greatest creations. Unfortunately, theatre audiences do not care to see the same play many times; when the change of program was announced, a number of people demanded their money back. They wanted to see Countess Julia and nothing else. We should have had a substantial turn-out, anyhow, had the gods not chosen the night of the performance for sending down a torrent of rain. The thousand dollars or more we had hoped to realize dwindled down to two hundred and fifty, a sorry capital with which to launch a magazine. Our disappointment was great, but we refused to let it affect our zeal.
We had enough for the first number, which we decided to issue in the historic revolutionary month of March. What other free-lance publication had ever started with more? Meanwhile we sent out a general appeal to our friends. Among the responses we received one from Colorado bearing the heading: The Open Road. It threatened to set the law on us for infringement of copyright! Poor Walt Whitman would have surely turned in his grave if he knew that someone had dared to legalize the title of his great poem. But there was nothing for us to do except to christen the child differently. Friends sent in new names, but we did not find one expressing our meaning.
While visiting the little farm one Sunday, Max and I went for a buggy ride. It was early in February, but already the air was perfumed by the balm of spring. The soil was beginning to break free from the grip of winter, a few specks of green already showing and indicating life germinating in the womb of Mother Earth. "Mother Earth," I thought; "why, that's the name of our child! The nourisher of man, man freed and unhindered in his access to the free earth!" The title rang in my ears like an old forgotten strain. The next day we returned to New York and prepared the copy for the initial number of the magazine. It appeared on the first of March 1906, in sixty-four pages. Its name was Mother Earth.
Paul Orlenoff sailed back to Russia soon afterwards, leaving a large part of himself in the hearts of all of us who had exulted in his genius. The American theatre and what passed as drama in the country seemed, thereafter, commonplace and vulgar to me. But I had new work to do, fascinating and absorbing.
With Mother Earth off the press and mailed to our subscribers, I left a substitute in my office and, together with Max, started on tour. We had large audiences in Toronto, Cleveland, and Buffalo. It was my first visit to the last-named city since 1901. The police were still haunted by the shades of Czolgosz; they were in force and commanded that no language but English be spoken. That prevented Max from delivering his address, but I did not permit the opportunity to pass without paying my respects to the police. The second meeting, the next evening, was stopped before we could get into the hall.
While still in Buffalo, we received the news of the death of Johann Most. He had been on a lecture tour and had died in Cincinnati, fighting for his ideal to the very last. Max had loved Most devotedly and he was quite unnerved by the blow. And I --all my early feeling for Hannes now perturbed me as if there had never been the bitter clash that separated us. Everything he had given me in the years when he had inspired and taught me stood before me now and made me realize the senselessness of that feud. My own long struggle to find my bearings, the disillusionments and disappointments I had experienced, had made me less dogmatic in my demands on people than I had been. They had helped me to understand the hard and lonely life of the rebel who had fought for an unpopular cause. Whatever bitterness I had felt against my old teacher had given way to deep sympathy long before his death.
I had tried on several occasions to let him feel the change in me, but his unyielding attitude convinced me that there had been no corresponding change in him. The first time I had approached him, after many years, had been in 1903, at a reception given upon his release after his third term at Blackwell's Island. His hair had grown white, yet his face was still ruddy and his blue eyes shone with the old fire. We collided near the steps of the platform, he coming down as I was going up to speak. Without the least sign of recognition, without a word, he stepped coldly aside to let me pass. Later in the day I saw him surrounded by a lot of hangers-on. I longed to go over and take him by the hand, as in the old days, but his cold stare was still upon me and made me turn away.
In 1904 Most gave a performance of Hauptmann's Weavers at the Thalia Theatre. His interpretation of Baumert was a superb piece of acting that brought back to memory all he had told me of his passionate yearning for the theatre. How different his life might have been had he been able to satisfy that craving! Recognition and glory instead of hatred, persecution, and prison.
Again the old feeling for Most welled up in my heart, and I went behind the stage to tell him how splendidly he had played. He accepted my praise in the same manner as be did that of the scores of others who flocked about him. It apparently meant nothing more to him.
The last time I saw Most was at the great memorial meeting for Louise Michel. She had died while lecturing in Marseilles, in February 1905. Her death had united all the revolutionary sections of New York in a demonstration in honour of the wonderful woman. Together with Catherine Breshkovskaya and Alexander Jonas, Most represented the old guard that came to pay homage to the dead rebel and fighter. I was listed to speak after Most. We stood on the platform side by side for a moment. It was the first time in years that we had been seen together in public, and the audience evidenced great enthusiasm. Most turned away from me, without even a greeting, and left without another look in my direction.
And now the old warrior was dead! Sadness overcame me at the thought of the suffering that had made him so inexorable and harsh.
When Max and I returned to New York, we learned that a memorial meeting was being arranged for Most, to take place in the Grand Central Palace. We were both asked to speak. I was informed that the invitation to me had been protested against by some of Most's supporters, especially his wife, who considered it "sacrilegious" for Emma Goldman to pay tribute to Johann Most. I had no desire to intrude, but the younger comrades in the German ranks, as well as many of the Yiddish anarchists, insisted on my speaking.
On the appointed afternoon the place was crowded, every German and Yiddish labour organization being represented at the gathering. There were also great numbers from our own ranks, from every foreign-language anarchist group. It was an impressive affair and proved the great appreciation of the genius and spirit of Johann Most. I spoke only a short time, but I was told afterwards that my tribute to my old teacher had affected even my enemies in the Freiheit group.
To Chapter 30
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