Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1931.
FRIENDS HAD UNEARTHED A LOVELY SPOT IN SAINT-TROPEZ, AN ancient, picturesque fishing-village in the south of France. An enchanted place it was: a little villa of three rooms from which one caught a view of the snow-covered Maritime Alps, with a garden of magnificent roses, pink and red geraniums, fruit-trees, and a large vineyard, all for fifteen dollars a month. Here I regained something of my old zest for life, and faith in my ability to overcome the hardships the future might hold. I divided my time between my writing-desk and my ménage. I even found time to learn to swim. I prepared the meals on a quaint, red-bricked Provençal stove in which only charcoal could be used. Many friends from America and other parts of the world found their way to my new home in Saint-Tropez.
Georgette Leblanc, Margaret Anderson, Peggy Guggenheim, Lawrence Vail, and many others came for an hour or a day to discuss serious matters or in jolly company. Peggy and Lawrence lived not far from us in a village called Pramousquier and there I first met Kathleen Millay and Howard Young. The latter reproached me for not writing my autobiography. "A woman of your past!" he exclaimed; "just think what you could make of it!" I would, I told him, if I could secure an income for two years, a secretary, and someone to scour my pots and kettles. He would undertake to raise five thousand dollars on his return to America, Young promised. In honour of my prospective benefactor, Peggy added a few more bottles of wine to those already emptied at dinner.
The four months in Saint-Tropez passed all too quickly in labour and play. A golden dream, not without its rude awakening, however. Mr. Daniels informed me that conditions in England since the general strike had grown from bad to worse; there being no sign of coming improvement I should not feel bound to his firm with my manuscript on the Russian drama. That was the first ripple in my azure sky, yet not so disconcerting as the cable from the New York comrade who had promised to raise the initial fund for my Canadian tour. "It is off," he announced.
The Canadian Government had probably declared I would not be admitted, or our own people had reconsidered their invitation, I thought. But my conjectures proved false. Canada remained blissfully ignorant of the danger threatening it, and our comrades assured me they were expecting me without fail.
My sponsor was apparently afraid of the bodily harm I might meet at the hands of the Communists. His fears were not entirely groundless; Communists in New York had broken up radical meetings and had even physically attacked their opponents. The hard times would also affect the success of my lecture tour, the comrade wrote. I appreciated his good intentions to protect me and my interests, but I could not be very gracious about the right he had assumed to cancel my tour. Had this new blow come while I was yet in England, I should have thought my world at an end. But life in Saint-Tropez had restored my strength and with it my fighting spirit. I cabled three friends in the States for loans. They responded simultaneously, though they lived in different parts.
While in Paris, I lunched with Theodore Dreiser. "You must write the story of your life, E.G.," he urged; "it is the richest of any woman's of our century. Why in the name of Mike don't you do it?" I told him that Howard Young had put the question first. I had not taken it very seriously and I was not surprised that I had received no word from him, though he had been back in America several months. Dreiser protested that he was greatly interested in seeing my story given to the world. He would secure a five-thousand-dollar advance from some publisher and I would hear from him very soon. "All right, old dear, see what you can do! If you also forget or if you fail, I will not sue you for breach of promise," I laughed.
I entered Canada as unheralded as I had England two years previously. In Montreal I learned that no English anarchist had been heard in Canada for a great many years. The only active people were the Yiddish-language group, but they had no experience in organizing English lectures. My friend Isaac Don Levine had promised to help with the publicity work, but even before he reached Montreal, the newspapers announced that the dangerous anarchist Emma Goldman, masquerading under the name of Colton, had managed to get by the immigration authorities and had come to Montreal. To save the Montrealers further trepidation and to satisfy the curiosity of the press Don issued a statement setting forth how and why I had come to Canada and inviting press interviews. The telephone and doorbell of my hosts, the Zahlers, worked overtime, and the papers were lurid with the news that romance still lived in this crassly materialistic age: Emma Goldman and James Colton, a southern Welsh miner, had rediscovered their mutual affection after twenty-five years and had joined their lives in matrimony. The immigration authorities were reported to have stated that there was no intention of interfering with my presence in Canada as long as I "did not advocate bombs."
The Moscow fanatics sought to boycott my lectures by a house-to-house canvass of the radical Yiddish population. A few of the more decent and sensible Communists deprecated these tactics. They suggested a debate between Scott Nearing and myself. I should have preferred some Communist who had lived in Russia longer and knew the situation better than Mr. Nearing. Still, I was quite willing to discuss with him the question of Life under the Dictatorship. Not so Mr. Nearing. His reply was that if E.G. were dying and he could save her life, he would not go round the corner to do so.
Besides my lecture in the theatre and an address at the Eugene Debs Memorial gathering I delivered six Yiddish lectures and spoke at a banquet where several hundred dollars were subscribed for the Russian politicals. The most satisfying result of my visit in Montreal was the group of women I gathered into a permanent body to raise funds for the imprisoned revolutionists in the Communist State.
The Toronto anarchists were more numerous and better organized. They were carrying on intensive propaganda in Yiddish and exerting an influence in their community, but they sadly neglected the natives. They were eager, however, to assist me to any extent with my program of English lectures. They had done a great deal of preparatory work that promised success for my first appearance. Support came also from an unexpected quarter. I had notified the Toronto newspapers of my visit to their city, but only the Star showed sufficient interest to send a representative, Mr. C. R. Reade. I was amazed to find him thoroughly informed about the anarchist philosophy and familiar with its exponents and their works. He might as well be one of us, I joked. Life was difficult enough without being an adherent of such an unpopular cause or sharing its ideas with a dull world, he laughed. His understanding and friendly attitude exerted a proselyting effect on his editors. In the words of the Communists, the Star became an "Emma Goldman propaganda sheet." The explanation given for my "pull" with the paper was that its owner had in the past been a "philosophic" anarchist and remained hospitable to advanced ideas. But I felt that it was due mostly to Reade's good offices. Both he and Mrs. Reade became my enthusiastic sponsors. Mrs. Reade even volunteered to organize a course of my drama lectures. They were among the few kindred intellectual spirits I enjoyed during my stay in Toronto.
Dear members of my family came to visit me from the States, and it was a great joy to be within their reach, even if they had to come to me instead of my going to them. Not that the opportunity was not offered me. Various friends were eager to smuggle me across the border. With my picture in every rogues' gallery in the United States, I could not have remained there long without being recognized, and there was no object in hiding. Those of my friends and comrades who could afford it would come to see me. For the rest, I never liked sensation for its own sake. There still was a large place in my heart for my erstwhile country, regardless of her shabby treatment. My love for all that is ideal, creative, and humane in her would not die. But I should rather never see America again if I could do so only by compromising my ideas.
The expense of travel in Canada and the great distances between the larger cities decided me to go no farther than Edmonton, Alberta. Winnipeg nearly became my Waterloo. The city was extremely cold and in the throes of a grippe epidemic, to which I succumbed in the first twenty-four hours. Lack of cohesion in our ranks, badly organized meetings, and Communist obstruction at every gathering made the situation anything but a cheerful prospect. Hugging my bed by day, in a half stupor from drugs to break my cold, I managed to pull through the Sunday evening mass meeting in spite of the rough-house created by the Moscow bigots. Later I added a course of drama lectures to my schedule. The six weeks in Winnipeg, though strenuous to exhaustion, were not entirely without compensation. The alert and active young people in the Arbeiter Ring organization, and the girl students of the University who invited me to speak, were the saving grace of my ordeal. I also succeeded in welding together the radical women into a relief society for the imprisoned revolutionists in Russia and added some money to the fund.
Edmonton, Alberta, proved a record-breaker. I came there for two lectures. I stayed to deliver fifteen in one week, some days speaking three times. All the Jewish organizations in town and most of the Canadian labour, social, and educational groups invited me to speak. The two extremes of the variegated audiences I addressed that week were factory girls during their lunch hour in the shop and the faculties of Edmonton College and the University of Alberta at a tea arranged in one of the hotels by Mrs. H. A. Freedman, the president of the Council of Jewish Women. The extraordinary interest my presence in Edmonton aroused was entirely due to the kindly efforts of three people, none of whom was an anarchist. Mrs. Freedman was a staunch and sincere adherent of the present political order, E. Hanson was a Socialist-Nationalist, and Carl Berg was an I.W.W.
A note from Peggy Guggenheim on my return to Toronto expressed surprise that I had not answered Howard Young's letter regarding my autobiography. Had I changed my mind about permitting him to raise a fund to enable me to write the book? He was planning to proceed with it and she would open the subscription with five hundred dollars. I replied that I had never received Howard's letter, but it was all right for him to go ahead. Yet I should prefer to have my old friend W. S. Van Valkenburgh in charge of the hard work the appeal would entail. I knew that if energy and indefatigability could avail, Van was sure of success. With Peggy Guggenheim and Howard Young as my first sponsors, Kathleen Millay as the official secretary, and Van to do the heavy correspondence, the project was finally launched to secure funds for my writing the "masterpiece that would set the world afire."
Meanwhile my Toronto comrades kept on insisting that I was wanted in their midst. They had never believed that their city could respond so warmly to anarchist propaganda. They urged that I make Toronto my permanent home or that I remain there several years at least. They offered to foot all bills and I should consider myself engaged, they declared. Most of these Yiddish anarchists were workingmen, barely earning their living: expansive Maurice Langbord and his wife, Becky, toiling to support their six adorable children, with large appetites; A. Judkin, weighing no more than ninety pounds, with a sick wife, running a newspaper delivery truck; genial and kindly Joe Desser, ill for months; Gurian, Simkin, Goldstein, and other comrades --- every one of them with heavy burdens to carry. I would not consent to accept support even from Julius Seltzer, the only "millionaire" in our ranks, let alone from them. Nor could I think of spending the rest of my life in Canada. But I would risk it for a year.
The special drama course, arranged by my two artist friends Florence Loring and Frances Wylie, had left a surplus. My family sent cash as their birthday gifts. The two Bens, Big and Little, and other friends had also remembered me on the occasion. I would have enough to keep going for part of the summer. I thought I would rest up for a while and then buckle down to prepare a new lecture course. But I lost all desire for a rest with the impending murder of Sacco and Vanzetti.
The first knowledge of their arrest had reached me in Russia; then nothing more till I was in Germany. So overpowering were the proofs of their innocence, it seemed impossible that the State of Massachusetts would repeat in 1923 the crime Illinois had committed in 1887. Surely some progress had been made in America in the past quarter of a century, some change in the minds and hearts of the masses to prevent the new human sacrifice, I reasoned. Strange that I, of all people, should have thought so. I who had lived and struggled in the United States for more than half my life and had witnessed the inertia of the workers and the unscrupulousness and the inhumanity of the American courts! With our Chicago men innocently slain, with Sasha doomed to twenty-two years for an offence that legally called only for seven, with Mooney and Billings buried alive on perjured testimony, the victims of Wheatland and Centralia still in prison, and all the others I had seen railroaded! How could I have believed that Sacco and Vanzetti, however innocent, would escape American "justice"? The power of suggestion had taken me off my guard. The whole world had repudiated the monstrous possibility that Sacco and Vanzetti would be denied a new trial or that the sentence of death would be carried out. I had been influenced by it and had done little to help stay the hangman's hand reaching out for these two beautiful lives. Only after I had come to Canada did I fully realize my mistake. Talking seemed inconsequential and futile. Yet it was all I could do to call attention to the black deed about to be committed across the border, after the seven years' purgatory suffered by the two persecuted men. Alas, my feeble voice, like that of millions, cried in vain. America remained deaf.
My comrades organized a memorial meeting. I consented to speak, though I knew that no paean of their velour and nobility could raise them to greater glory in the eyes of posterity than Vanzetti's own beautiful song or Sacco's last simple and heroic words.
Absorption in some vital interest had often helped me over the savagery man inflicts on his brother. Concentrated study of the material for my winter's work might dull the pain over our great and poignant loss.
The Public and University libraries in Toronto were lacking in modern works on the social, educational, and psychologic problems occupying the best minds. "We do not buy books we consider immoral," a local librarian was reported as saying. I acquired a librarian of my own in Arthur Leonard Ross, best of friends, who sent me two boxes of the latest reference books on the subjects I was preparing. I also came upon a rich Walt Whitman collection, owned by Mr. H. F. Saunders, secretary of the Toronto Walt Whitman Fellowship, who invited me to speak at the annual gathering in memory of the Good Grey Poet.
My luck in Toronto far exceeded my deserts. Kind hearts supplied my every wish. "A secretary?" "Why, there's Molly Kirzner --- she'll do your work." Within the year Molly changed her name to Ackerman, but not her loyalty to me. "A centrally located place for our publicity?" "Why, there's C. M. Herlick, the lawyer. Don't you fear, he is also a Socialist and eager to put his office at your service." A physician, a dentist, and tailors at my call, and a kidnapper whose cozy home soon became mine. The dear woman, Esther Laddon, was about my own age, but she mothered me as if I were her child. She fretted about my health, worried about my meals, and buttonholed everybody to warn them not to dare miss hearing the great orator E.G. Indeed, my luck exceeded my deserts.
In January 1928 I delivered my final talk in a series of twenty, embracing various problems of our time. The last evening, on which I discussed Ben Lindsey's Companionate Marriage, brought out an audience equalling the total attendance of four other meetings. I was assured that I had performed a feat no public speaker had ever attempted in Toronto before. I had come as a stranger without funds or a manager. Within a year I had created enough interest to secure audiences twice a week for eight months. Most important, my friends thought, was the effect of my lecture on corporal punishment in the schools. The campaign organized to abolish the savage practice was the direct result of it, they said. I could not have achieved what I did had it not been for the effective support of such friends as the Reades, Robert Low, Mary Ramsey, Jane Cohen, the Hugheses, Florence Loring and Frances Wylie, and my comrades in Toronto. Their share was no less than mine, nor should their credit be.
The week in Montreal before sailing was free from the gloom and disappointments of my previous visit. I came as the guest of the Women's Aid Society, the group I had organized for the relief of the persecuted revolutionists in Russia. My year's absence had not dampened their ardour nor lessened their efforts. Mrs. Zahler, Lena Slackman, Minna Baron, Rose Bernstein, and the other hard workers had surpassed my expectations in the amount of financial aid they had succeeded in sending to Berlin for the Russian Political Prisoners' Fund. They proved equally efficient with the two meetings they arranged for me, the largest and most interesting I had had in Montreal. I greatly enjoyed the fine fellowship at the farewell dinner they gave me. Other friends added to the interest and pleasure of my stay, among them Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Caiserman, enthusiastic Judaists, who gathered the Yiddish intelligentsia to attend my lecture on Walt Whitman at their home. They were proud that I was one of their race, they reiterated. It was worth coming back to Montreal to reach their Yiddish hearts by the grace of the goi Walt Whitman.
Evelyn Scott was in the city and I spent some lovely hours with her. I had read and admired her Escapade years before we met. Our friendship began in London and was cemented by Evelyn's letters, no less masterly than her literary work. We laughed to tears over the recollection of our recent meeting in Cassis, France. She had invited Sasha and me to dinner and we had arrived in the company of Peggy and Lawrence at four in the morning, hungry as wolves. Dazed with sleep, Evelyn had announced that she could offer us only coffee; not a scrap had been left from the sumptuous dinner.
The call to arms for "E.G.'s Life" had not brought battalions to the fore, Van ruefully reported; no more than a thousand dollars had come in, though he had bombarded everyone within reach. His face lit up when he learned that the comrades of the Freie Arbeiter Stimme had, through the efforts of its editor, Joseph Cohen, B. Axler, and Sarah Gruber, raised nearly as much, and that Toronto and Montreal had not lagged behind. But we were still only half-way towards the needed five thousand dollars. Van was not discouraged: he would continue to pester those who had once proclaimed their friendship for E.G. What were my plans? Would I wait before beginning my work? Did he dare suggest that a good anarchist would stop halfway, I teased my impresario. In fifteen months I had raised over thirteen hundred dollars for the political fund, some money for the fight to rescue Sacco and Vanzetti and for similar causes. I had paid my debts, amounting to twelve hundred dollars, and I had enough left to cover my return passage, aside from the new fund for my autobiography.
I was returning to France, to lovely Saint-Tropez and my enchanting little cottage to write my life. My life --- I had lived in its heights and its depths, in bitter sorrow and ecstatic joy, in black despair and fervent hope. I had drunk the cup to the last drop. I had lived my life. Would I had the gift to paint the life I had lived!
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