REMINISCENCES AND REFLECTIONS ON PETER KROPOTKIN
by Harry Kelly, Organizer,
Ferrer Modern Schools
My first meeting with Kropotkin was in the summer of 1895. It was my first visit to the British Isles and after spending three months there I prepared to return home but before leaving there was something on my mind. Eugene Debs had run afoul of the powers that be at Chicago and was then sitting in Cook County Jail for violating an injunction issued against the Union of Railway Workers of which he was the head.
It occurred to me if a set of Kropotkin's pamphlets could be bound and then have the author autograph the volume to send to Debs it might make the latter a convert to our cause. I learned later that some thousands of other people had similar ideas regarding their causes but it did not occur to me then. I spoke of the idea to John Turner who thought well of it and he offered to give me a letter of introduction to Kropotkin with instructions how to reach Bromley, where he lived.
Bromley was not far from London and in due time I arrived at the little house. Sophie Kropotkin opened the door and for some reason mistook me for a reporter and as she did not like reporters and they also had a visitor, was unwilling to admit me. Our conversation must have been loud enough for Peter to hear us and in no time I was in the house and being treated like an old friend. Incidentally, in the years that followed, Sophie and I became dear friends and we exchanged letters as late as seven or eight years ago. My visit was brief, with Kropotkin whole-heartedly endorsing my plan and writing a warm and appreciative message to Debs on the fly-leaf of the little volume which in the course of time was sent to the latter, and we talked it over a year or so later when we met in Boston.
The next time we met was here in New York in 1897. He had attended a conference of scientists in Canada and at its conclusion made a trip across Canada and on his return came to New York where he was a guest of John H. and Rachelle Edleman during his stay. He gave two lectures while here, the first at Chickering Hall, then at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirteenth Street, and the other at Cooper Union. Ernest H. Crosby, poet, and exponent of the theories of Tolstoy, presided at Chickering Hall and John Swinton, then a man of eighty but famous in his day as an anti-slavery advocate, associate of Horace Greeley, and later editor of the New York Tribune, was chairman of the Cooper Union meeting.
I am unable to reconcile myself to the title "old fossil" but am positively shameless in declaring that I have grave doubts that at this time it would be possible to find two such men as John Swinton and Ernest H. Crosby to serve as chairmen for lectures in Anarchism in New York. Both meetings were packed and both were magnificent demonstrations of love and appreciation for a great man and great revolutionist. It looked to me, a very young man, as if the social revolution was "around the corner," alas! For the record, let it be said that during Kropotkin's stay in New York he met scores and scores of comrades and he won the hearts of all.
In January, 1898, I paid my second visit to Britain and this time for a long stay,— nearly seven years, two of which I lived in a suburb about four miles from Bromley.