A PICTURE OF CIVILIZATION AT THE CLOSE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
JOHN HENRY MACKAY
DURING that same afternoon on which so much seething blood flowed back to the heart of the metropolis, Carrard Auban was sitting in his quiet, lofty room on one of the streets north of King's Cross, which are never very lively on week days, but seem as if haunted by death on holidays.
He had been living here since he was again alone. For more than a year already.
It was one of those bare, plainly furnished rooms, without modern improvements, for which one pays ten shillings a week, but in whose quiet seclusion one can live without being disturbed by the noise of the life outside. Room after room of the entire three-story house was thus rented; the occupants saw their landlady only when they paid the weekly rent, while they hardly ever met each other. Occasionally they would meet on the stairs, to pass rapidly on without greeting.
Auban's room was divided into two unequal parts by a screen, half as high as the ceiling; it hid the bed, and left free the greater half, which was chiefly occupied by an unusually large table. The size of the table corresponded with the enormous bookcase, which reached to the ceiling, and which held a library that was probably the only one of its kind.
It contained, first, the philosophical and politico-economical works of the great thinkers of France, from Helvetius and Say to Proudhon and Bastiat; less complete in number, but in the best editions, those of the English, from Smith to Spencer. Prominence was given to the champions of Free Trade. Further, a very incomplete, but very interesting collection of publications, pamphlets, papers, etc., concerning the history of the revolutions of the nineteenth century, especially those of the fourth decade. The present possessor, who had for a long time almost entirely neglected this legacy of his father, now valued it daily more and more according to its true worth.
Then the library contained an almost unclassifiable wealth of subordinate material dealing with the social question: surely a precious mine for the future student of the history of the labor movements. It had been collected by Auban himself: there lay piled up whatever the day had pressed into his hand. It was a living piece of the labor of his age, and surely not the worst. . . .
To acquire insight was Auban's highest aim. It was more to him than all knowledge, which he regarded only as an aid and a stepping-stone to the former.
The works of poetic art filled only one shelf. Here was Victor Hugo beside Shakspere, Goethe beside Balzac. But only in rare moments of recreation was one or the other of these volumes taken down.
This table, whose top was one huge piece of mahogany, and this library, each separate book of which was of special value to its possessor, --- for he had the habit of instantly burning every book which he had read and which did not appear important enough to be read by him again, --- constituted the sole wealth of Carrard Auban. It had accompanied him from Paris to London, and it made these cold walls in the foreign land seem like home to him.
No work of art of any kind adorned the room; every object bore the trace of daily use.
Two little portraits, however, hung above the fireplace. The one represented the great fanatic of the revolution whose wild force had spent itself against the walls of west European life; and the other, the great thinker of the century behind whose mighty brow a new world seemed to be in travail, --- Michael Bakounine and Pierre Joseph Proudhon. The pictures were gifts to Auban from the only person who had loved him ever since he knew him.
Auban's eyes rested on Proudhon's large, thoughtful features, and he thought of the mighty life of that man.
He was sitting before the fireplace, on a low armchair, and stretching his feet towards the warm flames. So his long, thin figure had been reclining for two hours, his eyes now fixed upon the gently crackling fire, now wandering about the room as if following the thoughts that again and again took flight.
He was not dreaming. He was thinking, restlessly and incessantly.
He was very pale, and on his brow lay, like morning dew, fine pearls of cold perspiration. The usually unvarying, impassive expression of his face was disturbed by the labor of thought.
It was a cool, damp, foggy October afternoon, from which the sun had turned away discouraged.
Auban stared motionless into the glow of the fire which illumined the room in proportion as the growing dusk outside enveloped his windows in closer folds.
For some time he bad been troubled by a restlessness which he could not explain. The harmony between his wishes and his power was disturbed.
Sometimes of late he thought he resembled the man who had squandered a princely fortune, and now, a beggar, did not know how to live.
But to-day he felt how a superabundance of power and ideas was urging him on to extraordinary deeds.
It was not yet clear to him: was his will not equal to his power, or was it only necessary to give the first impulse to the latter which was urging him on?
It would be decided.
Ever since Auban began to think, he had struggled --- struggled against everything that surrounded him. As a boy and youth, like one in despair, against external fetters, and like a fool, against the inevitable; like a giant against shadows, and like a fanatic against the stronger. As a man he had struggled with himself: the persistent, exhausting, hard struggle with himself, with his own prejudices, his own imaginations, his exaggerated hopes, his childish ideals.
Once he had believed that mankind must radically change before he could be free. Then he saw that he himself must first become free in order to be free.
So he had begun to clear his mind of all the cobwebs which education, error, promiscuous reading, had deposited there.
He felt that there must again be light and clearness in his head, if he did not wish to sink away into night and gloom. The important thing was to find himself, to become mentally free from all fetters.
He again became himself. It again grew light and clear within him; from all sides the sun came flooding in upon him; and happy, like a convalescent, he basked in its rays.
Now he could think without bitterness of his youth; smile over its errors, and no longer mourn over years apparently lost in a struggle which in this age each must fight out who would rise above it. . . .
Who was Carrard Auban? And what had been his life until now?
He was now nearly thirty years old. In these thirty years he had acquired externally an imperturbable calm and superiority, internally a cool tranquillity, which, however, did not yet save him from violent emotions of pain and wrath. . . . He was, in one word, a relentless critic who recognized no other laws than those of nature.
He had never known his mother. The only thing almost and the last that he remembered of his earliest youth was the wild, confused, passionate stories and declamations of an old passionate man, pining away in ideals, who had occupied with him a small, narrow, always disorderly room in the vicinity of the Boulevard Clichy --- in one of those streets in which so often a profligate life hides itself under the air of greatness. This man was his father.
How his father had come to marry the young German who had lost the years of her youth in the ever-joyless and ever-depressing position of a governess in Paris, was known really but to one person. This person was his only friend, and his name was Adolphe Ponteur. After Carrard was left an orphan at the age of six, he became his sole protector, and what he told the boy in later years about his father was as follows: ---
The cradle of Jean Jacques Auban --- he had never been baptized with that Christian name, but he never called himself otherwise --- had been rocked on the last waves of the great revolution: his father had been a grain merchant, who, by shrewd speculations under the first Napoléon, had retrieved his fallen fortunes tenfold. By the aid of the same, Jean Jacques grew to be almost fifty years old without learning that one needs money in order to live. When he was brought face to face with this truth, he was a man wholly unacquainted with life, thoroughly happy and thoroughly alone, although not isolated. A man who in these fifty years had done an enormous amount of reading and learning without ever thinking of utilizing what he had learned; a revolutionist of the ideas of mankind without embittering hopes and almost even without wishes; a child and an idealist of touching simplicity and surprising freshness of body and mind. He had always lived in his ideas, never in life, and had never touched a woman. . . .
Half a century had passed by this man without having drawn him into its whirlpool and devoured him. The clash of arms of the Corsican conqueror, raised as he was by might and struck down by it, --- by might great and small, --- pursued him throughout his entire youth. But he paid no more attention to the events of the day than children do to the tales of antiquity told by their nurses and teachers.
The revolution of 1830 --- it was to him only a shadow that fell disturbingly on his work. . . .
For he was occupied with examining anew the terrible mistakes of Malthus, --- that there was not enough space and food on the earth for all, --- without being able to detect them.
He had a suspicion of the approach of a new conflict, compared with which the political dissensions of the day were as boys' quarrels. Therefore he listened with the same attention to the prophetic words of the gifted St. Simon as to the wild imprecations of Babúuf, the Communist; therefore he studied with the same zeal Fourier's Phalanst're, those impossible fancies of a lunatic, and the labors of the reformers during the régime of Louis Philippe; and alternating between the one and the other he beheld to-day in the Icaria of "Father Cabet" the promised land, and tomorrow in Louis Blanc, the hypocritical rhetorician, the redeeming saviour.
He saw nothing of the proletariat which in the gray dawn of those decades, as one awakening, heaved its first heavy sighs, and still unconscious of its power stretched its mighty limbs.
But from the moment in which the necessity of earning his own living overwhelmed him, all was changed: ten years sufficed to make of the retired, healthy, and studious man an embittered, rapidly aging individual, who was yet daily more awakening to life. It was no longer the great idols whom he loved; he began to make fun of them, and to participate in the ideas and petty struggles of the day which had disgusted him for fifty years. It was exceedingly difficult for him to put his knowledge and talents to practical use; he lived poorly, in subordinate positions of the most various kinds; too old to acquire the full meaning of life, and too young, in his young awakening, not to seize it with all the impetuosity of the inexperienced youth of twenty, he was driven from one disappointment to another, which did not make his judgment clearer or his step firmer.
So the February revolution saw the aging man on the barricades among the crowds of the insurgents who fought for the phantom of political liberty. His enthusiasm and his courage were no whit less than those of the workingmen in their blue blouses, beside whom he stood.
The fall of the July government filled him with boundless hopes. His books were covered with dust; the past of his quiet life of contemplation lay extinguished behind him.
He was now a workingman. The Luxembourg, where the delegates of his class were enthroned on deserted cushioned seats, was the heaven to which he also looked for counsel and assistance. Daily he went to the mairie of his arrondissement
to claim the sum which the State was compelled to pay to all unemployed workingmen --- what work could Jean Jacques have done in the national workshops?
He did not see the madness of this decree which was destined to lead to new and more bloody conflicts. For there were two things which he had not yet learned in the fifties: that the State can pay out only what it has taken in; and that therefore all attempts to solve the social question through the State from above are doomed from the start.
But when he might have learned it from his own experience, during the days of the June insurrection, in which labor took up its first real struggle with capital, and drew the lesson from the terrible defeat of that most remarkable of all battles, that the privileges of authority must be met by more deadly weapons than those of force, he was lying ill under the strain of the unusual excitement.
It was his good fortune. For he who had taken part in the political revolution of February, --- the day of reckoning of the bourgeoisie with royalty, --- the unimportance of which he was incapable of recognizing, how could he have held aloof from the days in which the proletariat would fain have had its reckoning with the bourgeoisie? Would he not have met with a sad end, thirsting and rotting in the frightful cellar holes in which the prisoners were penned, or perishing as a banished convict in one of the trans-oceanic penal colonies of his country?
He was spared that fate. When he arose, trembling Paris was in a state of terror before the red spectre of Socialism.
A man had appeared upon the scene who penetrated men and things more deeply than any before him. Proudhon had founded his first paper, the "Représentant du Peuple," and delivered his celebrated and notorious address on the gratuity and mutuality of credit in the National Assembly amidst scorn and ridicule.
But Auban saw in the greatest and most daring man of his time nothing but a traitor to the "cause of the people," because he had not taken part in the battles of July.
Blind as he was, he could just as little appreciate the project --- perhaps the most important and far-reaching which ever sprang from a human brain --- which Proudhon discussed for half a year as the "Banque d'échange," and which from December, 1848, till April of the following year he sought to realize as the "Banque du Peuple," in his second paper, "Le Peuple," until the brutal hand of power completely demolished the almost finished structure by imprisoning its author.
What in the confusion of the day the father could not comprehend, perhaps because it was too near him, the son was to grasp in its entire range and tremendous significance: that each one by means of the principle of mutualism, and independently of the State, could exchange his labor at its full value, and thus in one word --- make himself free!
This last, greatest, most bloodless of all revolutions, the only one that carries with it the guarantee of a lasting victory --- Jean Jacques passed through its first awakening almost with indifference.
The election of Louis Napoléon destroyed the last of his hopes. From that time he hated Cavaignac, the faithless one, no more than that usurper.
It took a long time before he could recover from his gloomy torpor. It took years. He lived through them in constant care for his daily bread. Perhaps it was this care that kept him alive. His late marriage was more the result of an accident than of deliberate intention. He met the woman whom he loved in the house in which she was a governess, and into which he came to complete the education of two stupid boys. The sad dependence of their position brought them closer together: she took an interest in him, and he loved this girl of twenty-seven years sincerely.
They lived together in a quiet and not great, but secure, happiness. Carrard was born, the son of a man who had long passed the meridian of his life, and of a woman who was still far from it.
The mother died at his birth. Jean Jacques broke down completely. He was now indeed an old and a weary man. He had lost his faith with his vigor. His passion had fled, and what he tried to give out as such was only vehement, excited declamation. . In the midst of this and the clumsy tenderness of Adolphe Ponteur, the little Carrard grew up, and was six years old when his father died with a terrible curse upon the third Napoléon, and without a look for him. Such is the story, in rough outlines, which Adolphe Ponteur told the child about his parents in the years when he was a better father to him than the real one could ever have been. He shared his scanty bread, his narrow room, and his old heart with the boy; he wished to teach him to read and write himself, and took a great deal of pride in carrying it out; but it became evident that it was not Carrard, but he himself who lacked the talent therefor. So he sent him at his ninth year into the large city school of his arrondissement.
The war of 1870 came, and the boy had reached his thirteenth year. Adolphe dreamed of the gloire of his countrymen, and Carrard continued to live on unconcerned.
The days of the Commune had come, in which all Paris seemed again to be a chaos of blood, smoke, noise, rage, and madness; with terror Adolphe saw a flame leap from the dark eyes of the boy which, for the first time, reminded him of Jean Jacques, and he, the honest bourgeois who had always seen only the external horrors of a revolution without being able to recognize its internal blessings, was so frightened by it that he resolved to separate himself from him, and to send him away from that "poisoned" Paris --- that Paris without which he himself could not live.
He took him to Alsatia, to Mulhausen, that dull, large factory city which, after the "great war" had spent its rage, found itself in the difficult position of steadying itself on the boundary line between the exhausted but not conciliated enemies. Ponteur had a relative there who stood alone, a genuine Frenchwoman, who had never learned a word of German, and Carrard had relatives on his mother's side, --- a German government official, who had secured the call to that higher position by extraordinary diplomatic gifts, i.e. by the fine art of hiding his thoughts and feelings behind words.
Mademoiselle Ponteur treated Carrard with exceeding care and kindness, gave him a little room and board, and for the rest allowed him to do as he liked. In the four years in which he lived under her roof, which had nothing more to protect than the quiet memories of the past, he did not once approach her with a request, nor did she ever venture to offer him advice. She was entirely at sea concerning what to do with him, and felt very much relieved when she noticed --- and she noticed it at once --- that the boy had already very well learned to take care of himself.
The relatives on his mother's side fulfilled their duties towards him by inviting him once a week to their family table, where he sat in the midst of a spoiled and noisy lot of children whose language he understood at first not at all, and later only with difficulty, where he always felt very uncomfortable, and where he again succeeded in having no further notice taken of him and no criticism passed when his visits became fewer and fewer.
At Mademoiselle Ponteur's he learned to appreciate his solitude and independence; at his relatives he conceived an inextinguishable repugnance to German middle-class life.
He remained five years in that place --- five years in which he did not once return to Paris. He spent his vacations making excursions through the southern Vosges mountains, which are so little known and so beautiful in their solitude and chaste severity. He looked towards Paris when he walked along the summit of the mountains.
At the age of fifteen he found a friend in the strange city. He was a French workingman who had known his father, and who had in some way heard of Carrard, and spoke to him one day as he was coming from school. From that day Carrard sat every evening, after work, in a small inn, in the midst of a circle of workingmen, among whom there was none who was not at least double his years, and of whom each thought it was his special duty to show some kindness to the "pauvre enfant" who was here "so alone." One made cigarettes for him, another taught him to play billiards, and a third told him of past glorious days when the nations had attempted to make themselves free: "Vive la Commune!" . . .
Carrard heard about the hopes and the wishes of the people out of the mouths of those who belonged to them. He began to suspect, to see, to think. But only as through a veil.
The school became a prison to him, because it compelled him to learn what he considered useless and did not teach him what he wanted to know. It gave him no answer to any of the questions which he never asked.
He had no friends among his schoolmates. He was not popular, but no one would have dared to put an obstacle in his way.
Only one sought his friendship: it was the oldest son of his relatives. His name was Frederick Waller, --- Waller had also been the maiden name of Carrard's mother, --- and he was the same age as Carrard, with whom for years he attended the same classes in the same school. He was intelligent without special gifts, indifferent without being able to wholly suppress some real interest in Garrard, and possessed of the desire to win his confidence, which the latter, even in matters of the most common concern, never gave him; and notwithstanding that this inaccessibility often embittered him, he never in these years lost a feeling of sympathy for Carrard which was composed of interest, admiration, and curiosity.
Carrard was, in his eighteenth year, tall and pale, outwardly perfectly calm, inwardly consumed by thoughts and passions, passing his days in gloomy resignation on the school benches and in free and easy intercourse with his friends, the workingmen, at P're François, and his nights in mad pondering over God and the immortality of the soul, and those thousand questions which every thinking man must once in his life have solved for and in himself.
When he had reached his fifteenth year, he received the report from Paris of the death of his old friend --- it was the last time in his life that he was able to soothe his pain by tears; two years later the woman died in whose house he had lived for years, and with whom he had never exchanged an intimate, but also never an unfriendly word. She had really come to like him, but never possessed the courage to tell him so. He had never been able to offer her either more or less than an unvarying distant respect.
He passed one year more in another family. Then he returned to Paris with a passably fair certificate, with which he did not know what to do, and with an unshaken belief in the future. He greeted the city of his childhood like a mother already given up as lost: for days he did nothing but wander blissfully through the streets of the city with wide-open eyes and a beating heart, and let the odor of the metropolis act on his excited senses --- that odor which is as intoxicating and stupefying as the kiss of a first love in the first night. . . .
He was looking for work and felt glad not to find any during the first four weeks. What mattered it that in those four weeks he spent the small sum which he possessed as a legacy from the man who had tenderly loved him? He lived in Batignolles. Often he rose with the sun and wandered through the dewy paths of the Pare Monceaux, and past the antique, serious structure of the Madeleine, upon the broad, clear place which in the last two centuries has drank so much blood, and yet was lying there in its broad, gray, clear area, shone upon by the sun, flooded by the roaring life, like a serene calm in an eternal riot; wandered down to the beautiful river with its broad shores, and looked at the work which from there fructified Paris, until he sat down tired on one of the benches in the gardens of the Tuileries, surrounded by the laughter of the children, while he turned the leaves of a book which he did not read. Then, when noon had come, and he had taken his meal in one of the countless modest restaurants of the Palais Royal, he could again sit for hours before one of the cafés on the great boulevards and let this nervous, ever-excited life pass by his half-closed eyes in a sort of somniferous, sweet insensibility, until he roused himself, and sauntering down the Champs ëlysées, sought the shady paths and sequestered stillness of the Bois for the late hours of the afternoon, to return in the evening --- after hastily partaking of some refreshments in one of the small public houses of Auteuil --- to the cité
in one of the steamboats on the Seine, where in silent devotion he greeted the steeples of Notre Dame disappearing in the dusk. He was seldom attracted by the amusements offered for the evening; but he loved to saunter through the Quartier Latin, from one café to another, and to watch the noisy life of the students and their girls; or in the neighborhood of his dwelling, to end the evening in a small inn in conversation with a workingman or a retail dealer on the politics of the day, when the mighty bustle of the boulevards had stupefied, and their endless rows of lights blinded him. . . .
It was the honeymoon of his love. A confused, intoxicated bliss had entirely captured him. After the past years of solitude and monotony he drank of this goblet of joy which was filled to the rim and seemed as if it could not be drained.
"O Paris!" Carrard Auban then said, "how I love you! How I love you! Do you not belong to me also? Am not I also your child?" And pride swelled his young bosom and shone from his eyes which had never been so young. He was still like the growing vine which climbed upwards on foreign grandeur and embraced it with the arms of longing and hope to grow strong on it alone. . . .
But when his pleasure and his money were, nevertheless, on the wane, and he saw himself forced to think how he was henceforth to live, he was not frightened. It did not seem to his courage as a matter too difficult. And yet it was only a very rare and happy accident which led him into a conversation on that day in the Jardin des Tuileries with a gentleman who was looking for a secretary, and offered him that position.
Auban worked with him --- a rather free and not overtaxed life --- for two years, receiving a modest salary, which was, however, sufficient for his needs. He was not interested in the work. He was not a methodical and, therefore, not a good workman in the matter of copying letters and keeping the library of his employer in order. But he became indispensable to him by helping him --- the English specialist, a strange mixture of thoroughness in the settling of some unimportant scientific question and of childish superficiality in drawing conclusions from his work --- to improve his faulty French, in which language he was fond of recording his worthless discoveries.
When he returned to England, he gave Auban --- although he had never even by a question evinced the slightest interest in his secretary, or showed that he saw in him anything but a tool for his work --- a number of letters of recommendation, which were entirely useless, and a sum of money, large enough to be of greatest service to him in the immediate future.
Auban was again free for some time. Although he had already in these two years followed the social movement of his country with the liveliest interest and made the acquaintance of a number of its moving spirits, he now threw himself --- with a great shout of joy --- into its tide.
It took him up as it takes up and devours everything. . . .
Broad., dark, mysterious, like the impenetrable thicket of the primeval forest, the domain of the social question --- of the future of mankind --- lay before his eyes. Fresh, young, ready, he was standing before it.
Behind him a confused childhood, --- roads across fields, already trodden, and paths across mown meadows, already again overgrown, --- and before him the great mystery, the ideal to which he would dedicate his life.
The rustling of the voices in the wilderness before him seemed to give answer to those confused lamentations that had sounded about his cradle in the garret.
And he began.
It was impossible to enter with purer intentions, with hotter wishes, and with a bolder will upon the conflict which is the conflict of the present and the coming time.
Auban, not yet twenty-three years old, saw in this conflict two armies: on the one side were those who wanted the bad; on the other those who aspired to the good. The former appeared to him wholly corrupt, already in a state of dissolution, already half conquered; the latter, the healthy soil, ready to receive the seed of the future.
He was overwhelmed by the imperiousness of the movement, and wholly unable to exercise his judgment. He was intoxicated by the idea of being one in these ranks who were challenging the world to conflict. He felt himself raised, filled by new, glorious hopes, strengthened, and as if transformed.
Is there any one who on joining the movement has not sometime experienced similar, the same, emotions?
He attended the meetings and listened to the words of the various speakers. The farther they inclined towards the "left," the greater was his interest and his applause. He became a guest in the clubs in which the workingmen associated. He listened to the wishes as he heard them from their own mouths. He read the papers: radical, socialistic, the dailies and the weeklies. In every prater of liberty he saw a god; and in every political phrase-monger a hero. . . .
Until now he had shown no marked energy. Especially the latter years had made him commonplace. Now his capacity for work grew. He did really work --- the whole, laborious work which the entrance into a new world of ideas exacts of one. From all sides the tide of new ideas was streaming in upon him. He mastered slowly the chaos of pamphlets in which a diluted extract of scientific investigations is often offered to the undisciplined mind in such a strange way. Then he took up the study of some of the principal works of Socialism itself.
His habits of life changed. He did not wish to be a bourgeois or appear like one for any consideration. He exchanged his little room for one in the workingmen's quarter of the Buttes Chaumont. He simplified his dress until it was extremely modest, though never disorderly. He ate in the taverns with the workingmen. However, his expenses did not grow less in consequence. Only the feeling of shame at being "better" than his starving brothers he no longer experienced under these perpetual, self-imposed privations.
True to the teachings which he accepted, he began to work as a manual laborer. As he had not learned a trade, he was obliged to look about a long time before he could gain a firm footing. He first became a typesetter, then a proof-reader, in the office of a Socialistic daily paper.
It was at this time, too, that he wrote his first articles. Nothing brings people more quickly and more closely together than the struggle in the service of a common cause. Quickly the noose of a programme is thrown round one's neck. Instantly it is drawn together: henceforth your energies must be directed at the one fixed aim; your course has been determined for you; the use of your powers preordained.
Such is the party!
Auban had joined the ranks voluntarily. Now he was no longer anything more than the soldier who had sworn to follow the waving flag at the front: whither it points, there lies the goal. If your reason revolts, appeal is made to your sense of honor, to your loyalty. You are no longer free --- you have sworn to free others!
But also for Auban. the time soon came when he was able to exercise his own judgment. He saw the tremendous dissensions of this movement. He saw that ambition, envy, hate, and trivial vulgarity covered themselves here with the same pomp of idealism --- the word-garments of fraternity, justice, and liberty --- as in all other parties of public life.
He saw it with a pain such as he had never before experienced.
He was still very young. He still did not want to understand that the prominent leaders of the parties never dreamed of mutually taking these words seriously; that to the Conservatives the "welfare of the country," the "public peace and security"; to the Radicals the "free constitution," "loyal citizenship"; to the workingmen's parties the "right to labor," and the fine phrases about equality and justice, were simply but a bait with which to draw to their side, in the largest possible numbers, the mentally blind, and so by the right of the majority to become the stronger.
Had not he himself, during the year in which he almost daily wrote something for the paper of his party, fought with these words --- the battle in the air! without ever having carefully scrutinized them? And he had fought with enthusiasm and honesty, in the good faith that there was no other and better way to free the oppressed and persecuted.
He wanted only one thing, only one thing: liberty! liberty! The voice of his reason, the wild lamentations of his passionate heart, called out to him that the happiness and the progress of mankind lay only in liberty. This incessant thirst for liberty drove him through all the phases of the politico-social movement. No creed satisfied him. Nowhere did he find the premises invulnerable, the conditions fulfilled, the guarantees secured.
He was constantly haunted by the searching thought, by the unsatisfied feeling: it is not liberty, complete liberty! He felt how his aversion to all authority was growing. Therefore he resigned his position.
It was at this time that he made the closer acquaintance of Otto Trupp, whom he had already often seen, and formed friendship with him. Through him he learned about the movement of the workingmen in Germany and Switzerland, of which he had hitherto heard but little. Trupp's accounts made a deep impression on him.
It was in the year 1881. The idea of Anarchism was rapidly spreading in France. From the party ranks of Socialism, it tore crowds of the more independently thinking workingmen, of people dissatisfied with some of the actions of the prominent leaders, then all those whose feverish impatience could not abide the time of the revolution --- of deliverance.
If the State, private property, and religion were no more, if all the institutions of authority were abolished, could authority still continue? The thing to be done was to oppose force to the ruling force!
The idea of the destruction of the old world took possession of him. Only on its ruins, if all was destroyed, could arise that society which recognized equality as its first principle. "To each according to his needs, from each according to his powers!" Now he had found the formula in which he could seek refuge. And his dreams reared the structure of the future of humanity: they built it high, broad, and beautiful. . . . Everybody would be contented; all hopes fulfilled, all desires satisfied. Labor and exchange would be voluntary; nothing henceforth to determine their limits, not even their value. The earth belongs to all equally. Each has a right to it as he has a right to be a human being. And he reared the proud structure of his thoughts --- reared it into the heavens! . . .
This creed of Communism which is as old as the religions that have made of the earth not a heaven, but a hell, he called Anarchism, as his friends called it Anarchism.
Never had his words been more impressive, never had they aroused greater enthusiasm. He was now standing on the outermost boundary of the empire of parties! It was impossible to go further. He sacrificed himself. He was more active than ever before, organizing and agitating. Everywhere he found new comrades.
It was the wildest year of his life. Not a day for introspection and not a night for rest.
He was too much a man of energy who liked to see positive results, to be satisfied with this hasty, feverish activity of the propaganda. Meanwhile the circle of his practical experiences was enlarging without being noticed by him. He understood his comrades: their passionate denunciations, their crying sufferings, their embittered imprecations. Daily he saw here the needy and the starving about him, himself often hungry and in despair; daily there shameless debauchery, baseless insolence, scornful arrogance, --- maintained only by force. Then he clenched his fists, while his heart contracted in convulsions; then he preached without hesitation and from his deepest conviction the creed: to destroy force by force; then it appeared to him as of the first importance that the starving should have bread, the shivering fuel, and the naked clothing. What were all the achievements of science, of art, what was all the progress of mankind, beside these prime and absolute requirements? Everywhere he preached force, in all meetings, in all societies. He attracted attention. But --- as usually happens --- it was only an accident that turned the scales in this case.
One of the meetings which he also wished to address was suppressed. On dispersing the crowd, a policeman seized him by the arm and pushed him brutally against the wall. He struck the officer in the face with his fist.
True to the principles which make it obligatory upon the revolutionist "to serve the propaganda in every possible case, especially in court if the circumstances in any way permit," Auban delivered a speech before the judge which created a sensation. Again and again had prisoners, when arraigned, raised the question of the jurisdiction of the court, but never had any one in like manner denied the authority of all law.
People were surprised, --- some indignant, some amused. They considered him irresponsible. So Auban was sentenced to only a year and half of imprisonment.
To-day the courts of the civilized countries of Europe, when they hear such language, know that it is an "enemy of order" who is before them, and do not again let him go.
In 1883, hardly a year after Auban's conviction, the great Anarchist trial of the Sixty-Six at Lyons stirred up the entire community and directed general attention to the new creed. This blow, which the government went far out of its way to deal, would undoubtedly have struck Auban also, had he not already been inside the walls of a prison. In the view of "public opinion" the name "Anarchist" was almost synonymous with assassin from that time in France too. . . .
When Auban felt the fists of the police hirelings on his body, the essence of force became clear to him in all its brutality. His pride rose in revolt. But he was --- "powerless." The idea of suffering in the cause of humanity sustained him. He saw neither the cold smile of the judges, nor the dull, curious looks of the spectators who viewed him as a strange variety of their race. Not a muscle of his face twitched as he heard his sentence. A year and a half! That was nothing. What a ridiculously paltry sacrifice compared with the thousand-fold sacrifices of the martyrs --- to think only of the heroic death of the murderers of the Czar! --- who had suffered before him! With proud contempt he entered the prison.
Never was the first period of a man's sentence more heavily borne, the last more lightly, than by him.
At first it seemed to him that he could not live a month without the air and the sun of liberty. He was mistaken. In the beginning a dull and heavy rest took possession of him; the rest of exhaustion after these last stormy years! It did him good. He drank it almost as some healing medicine. Gone were the hourly excitements! Gone the conflicting noise! For a long time the blood continued to flow from all the wounds which these years of struggle had inflicted on him. When it ceased, he felt more calm than ever before.
It was possible for him to secure some books. With the thoroughness which the quiet and solitude of his days and nights forced on him, he studied the investigations of the great political economists of his country.
The picture of the world took another shape before his eyes, the more reflective he grew. Removed as it were from his age, no longer in the midst of the tumult of its contentions, he gained a point from which he could survey its currents. It was at this time that he came back to himself.
In the fall of 1884 he left the prison. He was no longer his former self. It was difficult for him to find his way. His powers had lost their elasticity. He was joyfully welcomed back by his comrades. Trupp was in London. They assisted him according to their means. But it was no longer the same. His faith had been shaken. He thirsted to fathom the truths of political economy. He wished to know what promises it held out. This was the most important thing to him now. He knew that he could not learn it from the passionate discussions of the meetings, nor from the newspaper articles dealing in commonplaces, nor from the flood of pamphlets brought to the surface by the movement.
Paris became unendurable to him. Everywhere he looked into the mirror of the follies of his youth. He was repelled, disgusted by the frivolous, noisy, boasting life. He longed after some great, free silence.
The only thing that offered itself was a position in a large publishing house in London, where he could be employed in the publication of a comprehensive work of French compilations. He decided quickly.
But he did not go alone. He took with him a girl whom he had learned to know before his arrest, and who had remained true to him during all that long time.
The year which Auban passed with her was the happiest of his life. But the frail flame of this brief happiness was extinguished when the dying mother gave him a still-born child.
The whole character of this simple woman whose judgment was as natural as it was keen was brought out by her reply to a Communist, who in a tone of bitter reproach once asked her: ---
"Did you ever contribute anything to the happiness of mankind?"
"Yes, I have myself been happy!" she replied.
When Auban had lost her, he grew still more serious and settled. More and more did he begin to hate and to fear the dreams of idealistic inexperience. He rejected them with a caustic analysis, often with a bitter scorn. Therefore he was now being attacked by parties who had formerly greeted him with joy. He saw in this nothing but a gain. He now became what he had never been: sceptical. If he had formerly exaggerated the party dissensions of the day, he was now --- when he no longer could take seriously the political farce --- inclined to underrate them.
Since he came to London, he had taken up in his free hours the study of the latest daughter of science, --- political economy, that sober, serious, severe study which exacts so much of the head, so little of the heart. It compelled him to dispel the legion of vague wishes; it compelled him to think logically; and it compelled him to scrutinize words as to their value and meaning.
It was Proudhon who first attracted him powerfully, that gigantic man whose untiring investigations encompass all domains of human thought; Proudhon, whose impassioned, glowing dialectics seems so often to go astray in the obscure mazes of contradiction where only the spirit enthroned above all parties can follow the master exclusively bent on seeking the complete liberty of the individual; Proudhon, the "father of Anarchy," to whom ever and ever all must go back who would lay bare the roots of the new creed of no authority.
"Property is robbery!" That is all most Socialists know about Proudhon. But the scales were falling from Auban's eyes.
He now saw what it was that Proudhon had meant by property: not the product of labor, which he had always defended against Communism, but the legal privileges of that product as they weigh upon labor in the forms of usury, principally as interest and rent, and obstruct its free circulation; that with Proudhon equality was nothing but equality of rights, and fraternity not self-sacrifice, but prudent recognition of one's own interests in the light of mutualism; that he championed voluntary association for a definite purpose in opposition to the compulsory association of the State, "to maintain equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchange" as "the only possible, the only just, the only true form of society."
Auban now saw the distinction Proudhon made between possession and property.
"Possession is a right; property is against right." Your labor is your rightful possession, its product your capital; but the power of increase of this capital, the monopoly of its power of increase, is against right.
"La propriété, c'est le vol!"
Thus he recognized the true causes of the terrible differences in the distribution of weapons of which nature knows nothing when it places us on the battleground of life; how it happens that some are condemned to pass a life of trouble and toil and hopelessness within the limits unalterably fixed by the "iron law of wages," while the others, removed from competition, throw out playfully, as it were, the magnet of their capital, to attract whatever of foreign labor products fall within its field, and so steadily add to their wealth, --- all that he now saw clearly under the light of this examination. He saw that the minority of the latter were in a position, by the aid of anciently received opinions, to coerce the majority into a recognition of their privileges. He saw that it was the nature of the State which enabled that minority to keep a portion of the people in ignorance concerning their interests, and to prevent by force the others who had recognized them from pursuing them.
He saw consequently --- and this was the most important and incisive perception of his life, which revolutionized the entire world of his opinions --- that the one thing needful was, not to champion the creed of self-sacrifice and duty, but rather egoism, the perception of one's own interests!
If there was a "solution of the social question," it lay here. All else was Utopia or slavery in some form.
So he grew slowly and quietly into liberty: during the day bound in the slavery of his toilsome labor and in the evening in the company of the woman to whom belonged his love. Then, when he had lost her, again alone; only more alone, but quieter and stronger than ever. . . .
Trupp was and remained, his best friend. He had more and more learned to appreciate the earnestness, the firmness, and the instinctive tenderness of that man. Nevertheless there was no longer any real understanding between them. Trupp always viewed men from the standpoint of what they ought to be and one day would be; but Auban had penetrated the nature of liberty far enough to know how little one can force people to be happy who do not wish to be happy.
He placed all his hope in the slow progress of reason; Trupp, all in the revolution which would flood the world with the light of liberty, illuminating all, because fulfilling all wishes. Auban had come to himself and wished that each might so come to himself; Trupp lost himself more and more in the generality of mankind. Trupp had placed himself in the service of his cause and felt as belonging to it in life and in death; Auban knew that liberty does not bind one to anything.
So the one was more and more fired to a life of action, like a horse by the spurs of his rider, like a soldier by the "Forward!" cry of his general, while the other became more and more convinced of the significance of the policy which awaits the approach of the enemy to repulse his attacks. So the one saw all lasting good proceeding only from a bloody, the other only from a bloodless, conflict. . . .