WHO WOULD REPROACH A TREE THAT ALL ITS FLOWERS HAVE NOT RIPENED INTO FRUIT?
HE NATURAL INCLINATION OF THE VERY FACULTIES THEMSELVES DRIVES THEM TOWARDS SPECIALIZATION: THE INCESSANT PROGRESS OF DIVISION OF LABOR EVER TENDS TO OPEN THE WORKER INTO A NARROWER CORNER; THE EXIGENCIES OF PRODUCTION, THE CRUEL NECESSITIES OF LIFE, FIT THE PROLETARIAN INTO THE END OF A CRANK, REDUCE HIM TO ONE SINGLE FUNCTION, HYPERTROPHY ONE LIMB AND ATROPHY THE OTHER, SHARPEN ONE FACULTY AND WEAKEN THE WHOLE BEING.
Indeed I do not hesitate to affirrn that in many so-called savage tribes the average individual is neither morally nor intellectually inferior to the average individual in our so called civilized states. Not that I would resume the thesis of Jean-Jacques and exalt the "child of nature" that I may the better depreciate the man who is a produt of cultivation. We love and admire the child without thereby declaring him the superior of the adult. Never will instinct--sagacious, ingenious, ready-witted though it be--attain a vast and luminous comprehension of what has been surely and silently elaborated by reason. Poetry itself cannot rise to the sublimity of science; be it finch or nightingale, it cannot soar to regions where the towering eagle floats upon the might of his outspread wings.
|"PRIMITIVE FOLK"||ELIE RECLUS|
LMOST without exception those to whom Elisée Reclus was a great living fact have passed away, for he died July 4, 1905, and was then a man of 75. Nevertheless, in Anarchism's thought he still lives on, a vivid figure, revered and loved. He was a great scholar and a charming writer; but we have had many such, and for the most part, as the years slip by, we recall them to memory only by their work. He was essentially a son of the people, but so have been many distinguished leaders whose names scarcely survived their death. His whole life was devoted to the cause he had espoused in his early youth;but men of that type, though all too rare, are soon forgotten. Somehow this man was different. Somehow, he still lives on; an impressive personality; a vital force. The exceptional, stripped of illusions by its heart-breaking struggle with the commonplace, usually loses much of the simplicity of its earlier years, but Elisée Reclus seems to have been an exception to this general rule. He remained to the last as direct and straightforward as a child, saying exactly what he thought, and living up to it. Kropotkin, who knew him well and loved him dearly, relates that in his youth bread was often his only food, and that throughout his life a piece of bread and an apple, or some grapes, sufficed him. His hunger was for high thinking, and cheerfully he paid the price. His father wished him to become a pastor, but he was in search of truth; and the search took him, and his brother Elie, to Berlin, that they might sit at the feet of the great geographer, Karl Ritter....
He who would become a competent geographer must travel, and Reclus managed--against what difficulties !- to put in six full and fruitful years at that. In Ireland he took up with intense ardour the cause of the peasant, starved and rack-rented by his English landlord. In the United States he was stirred deeply by the Abolition movement, and later on he interested many Frenchmen in that great struggle for the overthrow of chattel slavery. His journeyings through Colombia and Guiana set him aflame with indignation against the white invader, and made him to his dying day the blackman's friend. Slavery, in all its forms, he always hated.
His labours as a scientist mnst have been prodigious, for "The Earth" in itself is a veritable gold-mine of knowledge and of thought. But Reclus was interested, above all, in Man, and his propaganda instincts would not be denied. What he himself had learned he must communicate. He wrote much on Anarchism, both from the philosophical and the practical standpoint, and always in the noble vein, with admirable lucidity and sound common-sense. His peasant training, and his life-long love of the soil and of its actual cultivators, would have taught him that. His book, "The Story of a Mountain", in itself an education, breathes that spirit on every page. Portions of his private correspondence now appearing in "Pensiero e Volontá", an Italian monthly edited by Malatesta, are models of clear-headed logic. In them the philosophy of "propaganda by deed" is discussed exhaustively, and his own views are well worth reading. "Rather would I cut my tongue out than fall to howling with the wolves when the pack is in full cry," he writes. "Study these questions for yourself, and form your own opinions; but let them be sincere and based on reason." Surely that is the only position worthy of the Scientist, and never did he abandon it.
Men of this type can never rest content with words alone. What they preach they must practice, and the risks they recommend to others they themselves must run. Reclus lived up to that. In 1857 he returned to France. Great events were developing; Garibaldi was soon to fight for the liberation of Italy; serfdom in Russia was to be abolished; throughout Europe unrest was in the air. Into this sea of coming troubles Reclus boldly plunged. He shared Bakunin's views, and had become one of the earliest members oftheInternational Fraternity and of the International Working Men's Association, both founded by that indomitable agitator. The antiimperial movement, which had blossomed into activity as now it is blossoming again, had in him one of its most active and capable supporters.
In 1870 came the war between France and Germany, and on March 18, 1871, the Paris Commune was proclaimed. Reclus, whose fame as a scientist had become international, was not content to sit in council-halls and talk. He shouldered his rifle and fought....
There followed long years of literary toil, to the severity of which Kropotkin, who at that time was closely associated with him in propaganda work, has testfied....
"What a romantic career!" you say; but surely it had in it much more than that. This man by nature a thoughtful student, cannot have sought adventure for the mere love of it. He had in him none of tile vague restlessness which is the wanderer's usual weakness. On the contrary, he must have longed for, above all other things, a quiet life; one in which he could concentrate on the tasks to which he was devoted, follow his own simple tastes, and gather round him the friends he loved so dearly. As it seems to me, genius, the greatest of all living forces, is itself forced remorselessly into the forefront of the battle; must drive directly to its central point; must fight to the death, and if need be single-handed, for its convictions. It grips firmly where we ordinary mortals fumble confusedly; and sincerity of purpose and simplicity of method are, therefore, the very essence of its being. These were the qualities that marked and moulded Elisée Reclus' entire career; and, in my judgment, these are the qualities which still keep his memory green.
In all probability genius needs for its adequate expression that blindness to the immediate obstacle which comes with fixed concentration on the final goal. Christ's disciples, awed by his crucifixion and compelled to measure their own puny strength against the mighty forces of the Roman Empire, must have become conscious of a thousand difficulties their master did not forsee; and a very similar position faces us today. To Reclus, as to me, Individual Freedom was the one thing supremely needed, and to him Communism, as being at once the most economical and human method of cooperating effort, its inevitable corollary. Of that many of us nowadays are by no means so well assured; for Communism may mean a complete denial of individual liberty, and a coercion of the most tyrannical type. That phase of the great problem also calls for full and free discussion; and such a discussion Elisée Reclus would have been the last man in the world to throttle. As a great humanitarian he wished only for each of us the best that Life can give. As a profound scientist he believed in putting all things to the test of free experiment, beins, serenely conscious of the certainty that, by a baneficient law we are powerless to evade or alter, whatever makes for development and increasing happiness is destined to survive. Who with a heart in him would wish it otherwise? We want the bad to go, the stupidities to die, the cruel absurdities of the present barbarism to be thrown upon the scrap-heap, and the ground cleared for a better and a saner life.
Wm. C. Owen