T must have been in 1880, at Vevey, that, as we were leaving the hall, after a delightful hour spent in listening to one of Javelle's lectures, we were met, my friend Jeannie and I, by her father Elisée Reclus.
Never shall I forget the perfect courtesy of his manner as he bowed to the slip of a girl I was then. Towards the old and feeble, this courtesy remained the same. I can see him, advancing gaily towards his aged mother-in law, [Mme. Gonini, Enmance's mother] helping her up, and slipping her arm through his, as he led her, with cheerful words in to dinner.
There, without apparent effort, he seemed to make genial characters of us all, bringing out with exquisite politeness the best we had in us. Under the spell of his powerful personality, little by little all would become attentive listeners. It was a never to be forgotten privilege, to have heard the Plastic French language, bend to every shade of thought of this wonderful speaker. As the winged melody of a perfect violin is enhanced by the graver harmony of the orchestra, so his every word was made more suggestive, not only by his extensive knowledge, but also by the deep sensitiveness of one resolved to honor in every one of his fellow creatures, his high ideal of humanity.
He loved to point out the collaboration of the listener to the speaker, "the former," he would say, "holds up the mirror in which our thoughts take life before our eyes." Not only did he mention, in his writings, the names of all from whom he had received the slightest information, but he considered that, at times, even a listener is a fellow worker.
His enthusiasm has perhaps drawn some, now and again, out of their depth; but would it be just to make him responsible for this? Not only was he a convinced anarchist, but he could hardly comprehend that an honest, well-meaning human being could fail to be one....
He went on fighting down difficulties, and enduring suffering without ever making any one responsible for either. If he sometimes had thought others stronger than they were, he has judged them by his own standard, and can hardly, for this, incur reproach from those he had thus honored. Ever ready to help in every way his friends and comrades in trouble, he yet did expect from them, as professing somewhat the same ideals as himself, more fortitude than from others. He considered that the members of the "Commune" should not have made their escape when defeated. He also regretted that they, having seen the name of Leconte de Lisle on the list of those pensioned by the emperor, should have made it known, instead of hushing up a fact he considered humiliating to the great poet's fame.
One day, appreciating Goethe's genius, he yet showed his disapproval of the man, who, he said, acted as a valet toward Napoleon. I objected that his own principles were against narrow patriotism, and his answer was: "Il est des cas ou il faut savoir etre patriote." How often have I lately recalled these words.... When Elisée Reclus would earnestly say:
"La volonté c'est tout l'homme," did he realize what a magnificent example he was of this himself? He owned up to his daughter that in the morning when he set to work, he felt as though before an abyss; yet, every night, the abyss was crossed, the daily task was done, and what the works were, he left, we all know. As I look back from the writer to the friend, I wonder more and more, how in the midst of such labor, he managed to reserve time for the enjoyment of friendship; yet even during his travels, he did so.
Happy friends would, at a moment's notice, surround him, and they remember well his noble, pale face, alight with pleasure, his intensely blue eyes, under dark eyebrows, ablaze with enthusiasm, his richly toned voice and the very special distinction of his whole bearing. It will be the fortunate task of others to study Reclus as an eminent scientific and literary character; I have wished to convey something of what he achieved as a man. I say achieved for he may have had his share of human frailty no less than any others, but the blending of the most unusual delicacy of feeling, with the most intense strength (or strengthening) of the will I ever met, made of him one, who not only towers high above the average of humanity but the knowledge of whom may yet give hope in the future destinies of man.