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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
  William Godwin
  Emma Goldman
  Peter Kropotkin
  Errico Malatesta
  Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
  Max Stirner
  Murray Bookchin
  Noam Chomsky
  Bright but Lesser Lights
  Cold Off The Presses
  Anarchist History
  Worldwide Movements
  First International
  Paris Commune
  Haymarket Massacre
  Spanish Civil War

This text was taken from the 1st edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1899.





    DURING my journey I had bought a number of books and collections of socialist newspapers. In Russia, such books were "unconditionally prohibited" by censorship; and some of the collections of newspapers and reports of international congresses could not be bought for any amount of money, even in Belgium. "Shall I part with them, while my brother and my friends would be so glad to have them at St. Petersburg? " I asked myself; and I decided that by all means I must get them into Russia.

    I returned to St. Petersburg via Vienna and Warsaw. Thousands of Jews live by smuggling on the Polish frontier, and I thought that if I could succeed in discovering only one of them, my books would be carried in safety across the border. However, to alight at a small railway station near the frontier, while every other passenger went on, and to hunt there for smugglers, would hardly have been reasonable; so I took a side branch of the railway and went to Cracow. "The capital of old Poland is near to the frontier," I thought, "and I shall find there some Jew who will lead me to the men I seek."

    I reached the ones renowned and brilliant city in the evening, and early next morning went out from the hotel on my search. To my bewilderment I saw, however, at every street corner and wherever I turned my eyes in the otherwise deserted market-place, a Jew, wearing the traditional long dress and locks of his forefathers, and watching there for some Polish nobleman or tradesman who might send him on an errand and pay him a few coppers for the service. I wanted to find one Jew; and now there were too many of them. Whom should I approach? I made the round of the town, and then, in my despair, I decided to accost the Jew who stood at the entrance gate of my hotel, -- an immense old palace, of which, in former days, every hall was filled with elegant crowds of gayly dressed dancers, but which now fulfilled the more prosaic function of giving food and shelter to a few occasional travelers. I explained to the man my desire of smuggling into Russia a rather heavy bundle of books and newspapers.

    "Very easily done, sir," he replied. "I will just bring to you the representative of the Universal Company for the International Exchange of (let me say) Rags and Bones. They carry on the largest smuggling business in the world, and he is sure to oblige you." Half an hour later he really returned with the representative of the company,--a most elegant young man, who spoke in perfection Russian, German, and Polish.

    He looked at my bundle, weighed it with his hands, and asked what sort of books were in it.

    "All severely prohibited by Russian censorship: that is why they must be smuggled in."

    "Books," he said, "are not exactly in our line of trade; our business lies in costly silks. If I were going to pay my men by weight, according to our silk tariff, I should have to ask you a quite extravagant price. And then, to tell the truth, I don't much like meddling with books. The slightest mishap, and 'they' would make of it a political affair, and then it would cost the Universal Rags and Bones Company a tremendous sum of money to get clear of it."

    I probably looked very sad, for the elegant young man who represented the Universal Rags and Bones Company immediately added: "Don't be troubled. He [the hotel commissionnaire] will arrange it for you in some other way."

    "Oh, yes. There are scores of ways to arrange such a trifle, to oblige the gentleman," jovially remarked the commissionnaire, as he left me.

    In an hour's time he came back with another young man. This one took the bundle, put it by the side of the door, and said: "It's all right. If you leave to-morrow, you shall have your books at such a station in Russia," and he explained to me how it would be managed.

    "How much will it cost?" I asked.

    "How much are you disposed to pay?" was the reply.

    I emptied my purse on the table, and said: "That much for my journey. The remainder is yours. I will travel third class!"

    "Wai, wai, wai!" exclaimed both men at once. "What are you saying, sir? Such a gentleman travel third class! Never! No, no, no, that won't do.... Five dollars will do for us, and then one dollar or so for the commissionnaire, if you are agreeable to it,--just as much as you like. We are not highway robbers, but honest tradesmen." And they bluntly refused to take more money.

    I had often heard of the honesty of the Jewish smugglers on the frontier; but I had never expected to have such a proof of it. Later on, when our circle imported many books from abroad, or still later, when so many revolutionists and refugees crossed the frontier in entering or leaving Russia, there was not a case in which the smugglers betrayed any one, or took advantage of circumstances to exact an exorbitant price for their services.

    Next day I left Cracow; and at the designated Russian station a porter approached my compartment, and, speaking loudly, so as to be heard by the gendarme who was walking along the platform, said to me, "Here is the bag your highness left the other day," and handed me my precious parcel.

    I was so pleased to have it that I did not even stop at Warsaw, but continued my journey direct!, to St. Petersburg, to show my trophies to my brother.

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