From: Ishill, Joseph. (1927). Élisée and Élie Reclus: In Memoriam. Compiled, ed. and printed by Joseph Ishill. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Oriole Press.

Elisée AND ELIE RECLUS-In Memoriam

HROUGHOUT winter the Aleutians are not always hunting the bear and the fox, or surprising the poor seal when he puts his nose out of his hole to breathe; they cannot be always constructing boats and making sledges or snow-shoes. Life would be unendurable if they did not give themselves some little rest. The hovel being poor and miserable, there is all the more reason for being gay. The Esquimaux laughs at everything: laughs at the white man with his hundred tools and his thousand knick-knacks; he laughs while thawing his nose
and hands, which are in danger of gangrene; he laughs while letting oil run down his throat, while greasing his skin, and while lubricating his garments within and without; he laughs, and asks nothing but laughter. The Inoits have few pleasures but those of society, and of these they do not deprive themselves. The climate being hostile, the earth a harsh step-mother, they feel the need of keeping close together, of helping one another, of loving one another.

"Primitive Folk"

What the outer world refuses them they ask from the inner. After all, there is for man no better companion than man; it is in consorting with his fellows that he developes his original qualities and his highest faculties. Were it not that the Esquimaux tribes are great families, closely united, were there not communism thorough and deep rooted, their little republics would have speedily perished....



E l i e R e c l u s

WAS brought up in the cult of the Reclus brothers by my mother, who was their sister. I was named after the elder, to whom she was even more attached than to the other, and with whom she often sent me to stay when I was young. To say that I loved him best of all men is inadequate. I worshipped him; and he had a most decisive influence on my developement. He might not, at first sight, recognize the resemblance to himself of a man who accepts war as a normal biological phenomenon, and who has written an apology for Napoleon. But, at any rate, he would soon find the impress of his mind in the intellectual independence which these ideas necessitate, and also, I believe, in my adherence to the doctrine which makes me regard as a sign of senility every return to theoretical formulas and political forms which have exhausted their virtue by the very fact of having existed. What is more, I know he would forgive me if I have rather interpreted his teaching than learnt it by rote. If it is due to him-as he would understand at once-that I remain, for the time being, a republican in the political sphere, a socialist in the economic sphere, and an anarchist in the sphere of individuality, it is also due to him - as he would not be slow to see - that I am willing to accept any form of society, be it never so hierarchical and authoritarian, if only it exhibits the live and vigorous interplay of essential forces. It is due to him, above all, that I loved and, I believe, understood Elisée who, however, would neither have understood me so well nor, probably, cared for me so much as Elie did. It is remarkable that these two brothers, brought up together from childhood to maturity, constantly marching shoulder to shoulder, always backing up and idolizing one another, should have differed so profoundly, if not in intellectual outlook, at least in temperament. The pessimist and the optimist were at one in their horror of shams; and, despite the former's doubt and the latter's knowledge, they shared a belief in the virtue of that revolutionary instinct which urges men onward - a virtue which to the first seemed provisional and to the second, absolute. And yet the one manifestly derived from Montaigne, who belonged to the same countryside and from whom, as he once said to me, all the people of our canton are descended; the other, just as manifestly, derived from Rousseau. The one, saturated with pagan culture, taking man as he is, and seeing the need of gradually and joyously liberating his soul, for the illusion of immortality, from the slime in which it is sunk; the other, a Christian at bottom, affirming that man is not that he seems, breathing on the slime in order to find the diamond forth with, and setting up to reveal to that diamond, once and for all, the purity of its water. The one fired with charity, the other with hope. Both so pure that the pessimist retained until his charming old age the freshness of feeling and the dreams of childhood-while nothing, not even sad experience, could keep the optimist from believing, whenever he witnessed the first stirring of a revolutionary movement, that it was the seventh blast of the horns of jericho. My affection for Elie added insight to the admiration with which Elisée inspired me. The man who never met Elie does not know that he has missed the chance of crossing, for once in his life, the path of Cakiamouni reincarnate. In other times, Elie would have dwelt under a figtree on the bank of some peaceful river, living on light and fruit. Disciples would have surrounded him, and importuned his not too squeamish modesty for the sweet privilege of wiping his face and washing his feet. I have never actually seen a bee settle on his lips, but when insects buzzed about him he would ask us to leave them alone and not crush even the most impudent. He was poor, naturally - with neither affection nor mysticism - because he had reduced the requirements of vanity to nothing; and all that he needed as food for the imagination, he found in libraries, galleries, and country walks. Intelligence and kindness flowed from him like two springs of equal clearness and equal volume. His fundamental pessimism, by ridding him of the imperious and sometimes pitiless craving to establish truth and justice here and now, left him free to follow his real nature which was all compact of love. In the presence of a bad man or a fool, the dignity of his bearing and the haughtiness of his silence were such as only men of character and insight could appreciate. Joy found him calm, and he suffered smilingly. He knew everything, and yet gave the impression that he learned from everybody, and always. He spoke to me as if I had been a man; he became a child in order to listen to me. I was present when he died, twenty years ago. From that time onward I have felt the light dimmer and the sun colder. Elisée was like a beacon in the distance. Though a beacon may burn out, we know that, later the dawn will break. Elie was like the sun itself. Think of our horror on that morning when it failed to rise.


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