An Anarchist Woman
by Hutchins Hapgood
Duffield & Company
"The winners fall by the wayside," wrote Terry, "while the losers must ever on—hearkening to some high request, hastening toward a nameless goal. I am loser, for my motives are large and my actions small. In my desire to embrace the universe I may neglect a comrade. I can be as hard as my life and as cruel as its finish. I have only an ideal, and whenever anything or anybody gets in the way of it I am ruthless in feeling. I must not give up all that I have—what is in my imagination: I have nothing else."
Yes, Terry is hard. He "passes up" remorselessly not only the individual, but all society; but it is the hardness of the idealist, of the man who is still religious in the sense that he sees a beyond-world with which to compare this world and find it totally lacking. So, more and more he "passed up" Marie, found her more and more lacking, more and more human. The fact of her being a social outcast no longer had its strong appeal. He became hard and cruel to her through idealism, just as she had been hard and cruel to him through sensuality and false philosophy. But her hardness never equalled his fine scorn.
For a year or two preceding this point in the situation I had been living in Europe, and had met a good many men and women who had given a larger part of their lives to the making of a social experiment. Some of them, discouraged, had returned to a "bourgeois" manner of life, some even to a "bourgeois" philosophy. Almost all of the anarchists I have known lost their philosophy and enthusiasm with middle age, and experience with the actual constitution of things, combined with disillusion regarding the ideal. Most of them had been hurt or broken by their attempt, but they all retained a certain something, a certain remaining dignity of having struggled against the inevitable, and had acquired insight into some of the deeper things in life, though having lost some of the childlike simplicity which is a characteristic of the social rebel.
I saw a great deal of an old Frenchman, who had known Bakunin, and had been astute in the dangerous work of the "International" in England and Germany. An associate of William Morris and the other English anarchists who at that time called themselves socialists, my friend came in contact with much that was distinguished in mind and energy; he afterward carried the propaganda of revolutionary socialism to Germany, where he was arrested and imprisoned for five years. He is now a handsome, white-haired, well-preserved old man, with fine simple manners and joy in simple things, love of children and of long conversations with friends, good will and peace. He has retained a certain mild contempt for the "bourgeois," for people who prefer an easy time in this world to an attempt, even a foolish one, for radical improvement. But he knows the world now, and I fancy many of his illusions are gone.
Another of my radical friends is now only thirty-six years old; but already he is tired and discouraged, socially speaking. He is a Frenchman, too, with all the easy mental grace and intellectual culture of his race. Soon after his student days at the Sorbonne, the social fever of our day, which burns in the blood of all who are sensitive, took possession of him. Like Terry, he was drawn emotionally to an interest in the social outcast; like Terry, a girl in that class interested him, and he took up the cause of the girls, and led an attack against the policiers des mœurs, the special police who attempt to regulate prostitution in Paris. He spent all the money he had in the attempt, lost his respectable friends, and, after several years of fruitless effort, hope left him. When I met him he was living quietly, in bohemian fashion, drawing a very small salary and devoting himself to abstract philosophy, to science, and to pessimistic memories of the days of his social enthusiasm, or what he now calls his social illusions.
One of the most pathetic social experiments I have known was made by a young girl, whom I also knew at Paris. She generously determined that she would have no sex prejudices; and for several years she strove against the terribly strong social feeling in that regard. Not only theoretically but practically she persisted in thinking and acting in a way which the world calls immoral. She wanted to show that a girl could be good and yet not what the world calls chaste. She did not believe that sex-relations had anything to do with real morality. In one way, she has been successful. She is as good now—better—as when she began her experiment. She is broader and finer and bigger; but she has suffered. She has been disappointed in her idealism, disappointed in the way men have met her frank generosity, she has been injured in a worldly way. Her strongest desires are those of all good women—she deeply wants the necessary shelter for children and social quiet and pleasure, and these essentials are denied her because of her idealism. She half feels this now and is tired and discouraged.
Another woman who has paid heavily for her "social" interests is in quite a different position. She is married to a man who is also a social idealist. He is so emotionally occupied with "society" that nature and life in its more eternal and necessary aspects touch him lightly. He hardly realises their existence. She tries to follow him in this direction; strains her woman's nature, which is a large one, to the uttermost. It is probable that the loss of his child was due to this idealistic contempt for old wisdom. Not a moment must be lost, not a thought devoted to anything but the revolution; this necessitated social activity, and that exclusively. Where was the opportunity for the quiet development and care of an infant? The children of the "radicals" are few, and as a rule do not grow up in the best conditions. This certainly is a terrible sacrifice entailed upon the social idealist.
Writers in France and in Europe generally are much more interested in radical ideas of society and politics than they are in this country. The most distinguished among them are from the American point of view radical, at least. There is hardly a play of note produced in France or Germany that does not in some way trench upon modern social problems. Anatole France is a philosophical anarchist, and so is Octave Misbeau. It is not a disreputable thing to be so in France. An Emma Goldman there would be an object of respect. The prime minister of France was generally regarded as an anarchist before he went into office. A man of the type of Hervê would be deemed a madman here. Even a man as little radical as Jaurès would be considered a terrible social danger in America and could not conceivably have the power he exerts in France, where they have a respect for ideas as such.
But, combined with this interest in social things and this willingness to entertain the most radical ideas, there is a note of pessimism and disillusionment. Anatole France's work shows this double tendency well. He reflects the social revolt and lack of respect for the old society in a most subtle way, but also he mirrors the failing hope of the social enthusiast. He has a deep sympathy for the social idealist, but nearly every book suggests the inevitable wreckage of enthusiasm on the rocks of actuality.
When, after an absence of several years, I returned from Europe and went again to Chicago, I found Terry alone, disheartened, and different from the Terry I had known. Soon I saw that in him had taken place a process not unlike that which had happened to my friends abroad and which was reflected in European literature. His letters and Marie's had already indicated, as we have seen, his social disappointment. But I found him more bitter even than I had expected; cut off even from the anarchists, nourishing almost insanely his individuality, full of Nietzsche's philosophy of egotism, rejecting everything passionately, turning from his friends, turning from himself. Old society had long been dead for him and now he had no hope for the new!
Besides, Marie was not with him: she had revolted and run away. I had expected to see her in Chicago; she had written me that she would be there, but when I arrived I learned from Terry and Katie that she had gone away. During the few weeks preceding my return to Chicago, the quarrels between the three had grown in poignancy. Terry, unlike some of the disappointed anarchists I have known, could not settle back into an easy acceptance of life. With him it was all or nothing. More and more fiercely he rejected all society, even, as we have seen anarchist society. Of course, Marie came more and more in the way of this general anathema. She was young and pleasure-loving, and at last her nature could no longer stand this general rejection, the absence of the simple pleasures of life. It was not their quarrels, even when they came to blows, that determined her action. It was a revolt from the radical sterility of Terry's philosophy. Katie furnished her with the necessary money, and she went away to California. There this tired creature, this civilised product of the slums, this thoughtful prostitute, this striving human being full of the desire for life and as eager for excellence as is the moth for the star, went into camp, and there, in the bosom of nature, her terrible fatigue was well expressed in the great sense of relief that resulted: a new birth, as it were, a refreshing reaction from slum life and overstrained mental intensity. This new birth and this reaction from Terry's philosophy are well expressed in her letters to Terry and to me. To me she wrote:
"I have not dared to write you before for fear of your anger toward me for my abrupt dismissal of our plans of meeting, but I could not help it. The life instinct in me would not be doomed, but was insistent in its demands and made me flee from insanity and death. So here I am, far away from civilisation, from the madding crowd, away up in the mountains, making a last effort to live the straight free life of Nature's children, a suckling at the breasts of Mother Earth. And truly her milk is passing sweet and goes to the head like wine, for I feel intoxicated with the beauty and joy of all things here in this new, wonderful world. I did not know that such beauty existed, and my appreciation of it is so intense that it produces sensations of physical pain. I live much as the birds do, or at least try to—no thought of the morrow, or of the past, except when I receive a letter from dear old Katie or from Terry. Katie asks me if I have found a job yet, and Terry has some sweet reflections about death or dead things. But I recover in an amazingly short time from these blows, climb to the mountain-top, extend my arms to the heavens, and embrace passionately the great, grand, throbbing stillness.
"I have been here now a whole month and have not yet wearied of it for a moment. Each day brings a new, wonderful experience; and each day I feel a real part of the great wonderful scheme of things. Indeed, I am becoming a part of nature. I have grown so straight and tall, and so beautifully thin and supple that I can dart in and out of the stream without bumping myself against the rocks, can climb steep hills, and let the winds blow me where they will. I should not be at all surprised to awaken some morning and find that I had become one of the tall reeds that sway to and fro along the banks of our mountain stream.
"In one of my brief periods of returning civilisation, just after receiving a terrible letter from Terry, I had myself weighed at the store and post-office of the town not far away from our camp; my weight was exactly eighty pounds! It seemed to me that I was fading away into something wild and strange. But I have never felt such physical and mental well-being since I can remember. I hardly need to eat, but our camp cook actually forces me to swallow something. He is a German 'radical' of the old school. Frightfully tired of the radical bunch as I am, I like this simple old man. He is like a part of Nature, has lived on her bosom all his life, and loves her and no other. We have visitors at our camp occasionally, and they bring things to eat and drink. When they are gone, the cook and I live on what is left and get along as best we may. There are lots of wild fruits and nuts growing about here and they are delicious. Neither of us has any money nor care for the morrow.
"After I arrived here, all the bitterness of life vanished. I thought and felt very beautifully of Terry, and always shall, for I have made an ideal of him, and his grand, noble head, like a blazing tiger-lily perched upon a delicate and slender stem, will always be for me the greatest, most wonderful recollection of all the years. But I have no longer any desire to be with him, yet I do love and adore him, my own wonderful, sweet, great Terry!"
To Terry she wrote: "I am intoxicated by all this beauty and love the very air and earth. I feel the ecstasy of the æsthetic fanatic. Were I not disturbed by thoughts of you, I would indeed become another Eve before the fall, though I have strange desires and my blood beats as in the veins of married women. But no lovers can quench my fever. All the tiresome males are far away and I feel new-born and free. The air is scented with balsam and bey, and a pure crystal stream flows through this valley between two hills covered with giant redwood trees, and rare orchids of the most curious shape and colour toss wantonly in the breeze on the tree and hilltops. Birds and fishes and reptiles disport themselves in the sunshine, and giant butterflies of the most marvellous colours flutter so bravely among the ferns and flowers. There are no tents here in our camp, but we are covered with the fragrant branches of the spicy pines and nutmeg trees. It is a Paradise, and I think of you always when I am in the midst of beauty.
"My trip here included an eighteen-mile walk—in one day—think of that! I am getting as thin and strong as a greyhound. I don't wear clothes at all, but when I do, it is the old man's overalls, which I put on to go to town to get groceries or call for the mail. At night, our old cook builds a huge fire of redwood logs, and then his tongue loosens and he quotes poetry by the column or talks of his experience as a preacher, actor, village schoolmaster, and vagabond. Without a cent he travels all over California, as strong and rugged as any redwood tree that grows in this wonderful valley.
"It is so secluded here that no one would suspect campers were about. The trail leads down a steep descent. How stately it is between the huge stems of the trees, along our beautiful creek, cool and clear as crystal, and filled with trout and other fishes. There I sit in the sun and allow the water to pour over my shoulders."
In another letter to Terry she writes:
"Our sylvan retreat has been somewhat disturbed by the advent of Mrs. Johns, her children and her dog. Annie is also here, but they will not remain long, it is too quiet, too lonely, and the nights are too mysterious and uncanny, strange noises to disturb the slumbers of the timid. And besides there is nothing to do, no hurry or bustle or activity. The spirit of repose, of rest, of sweet laziness broods over this spot, inviting us to dream away the hours among the spicy pine trees. And for two such active ladies it is very dull here. Even when they go to town they return disgusted and weary in spirit because of the slowness of the natives, who are half Spanish, half Mexican. Even the beautiful trail winding in and out among the mountains does not compensate them for the dreadful slowness of the natives. I, however, love this slowness and converse amicably with the natives. And when I am a little active I go fishing, or climb about, or take a lesson in Spanish from my old philosopher-cook. I am now learning a little peasant song, the refrain being, 'Hula, tula, Palomita,' and it does sound so beautiful that I repeat it over and over. It means, 'Fly, fly, little dove!'
"The fishing I do not care for much. It is exciting for a time, but soon grows a bit too strenuous for my lazy temper. The little stream is filled with trout; one has flies for bait which have to be kept on the move continually. Walking and jerking the lines out of the water continually soon makes my arms and legs tired. I like best of all to lie in a bed of fragrant leaves, my head in the shade and the rest of me in the sun, the murmur of the brook in my ears, the skies mirrored in my eyes, fantastic dreams in my mind—in these you are seldom absent. At night I sleep as I have never slept—a deep, dreamless slumber. I awake to a cold plunge in the stream. Oh, it just suits me! I am tired of people, tired of tears and laughter, of men that 'laugh and weep,' and 'of what may come hereafter, for men that sow to reap.'"
A letter from Terry came like a dart into her solitude and for a moment disturbed her mood—her deeply hygienic, fruitful mood. She wrote to him:
"Your letter was a dreadful, an overwhelming shock. It aroused passions in me which I thought were laid to rest. But, after getting very drunk, I had sense enough to sleep over it, so that this morning I am almost my new self again. Last night I felt like cursing you with all the wrath of the earth and heaven. The last three weeks I have been camping here, caught in the spell of the wonder and beauty of nature. I have written you the half crazy rhapsodies of a girl intoxicated with the joy of life and health. Now I do indeed think that life is beautiful and worth the living. No, I do not worry about you. I am as happy and care-free as the birds, and live in and for the moment. Everything in the past is dead. Only when your letter came, these old things of my old self raised their heads for a little time, but they too shall die speedily, if I mistake not. Life is too wonderful, too beautiful to be marred thus by the ends of frayed and worn-out passions, by memories or regrets of you. I have become happy, healthy, and free, free without hardness, and in my freedom and joy I have found my love, my beautiful Terry, whom I may love passionately, tenderly and for ever, the dear ideal one. Is it not wonderful? I crown myself with flowers and go forth to meet him every day. I kneel at his feet and caress his dear hands. For I love him dearly, this very new Terry. Yet, my dear, if you should come near me, I mean, you, my old poisonous Terry, I would flee from you as from a pest. I would loath myself and the sun and flowers and all the other beautiful things of earth. I do not think of you at all, my old Terry, but I think of you and love and adore you, my new, wonderful Terry, and I make myself beautiful for you. So, my dear old Terry, I will leave you to 'lice and liberty,' to your 'hard free life,' and I will now lave myself with the pure crystal waters and make myself clean again, and then look on the sun once more and dream again of my own adorable Terry."
In this letter, Marie said, by implication, a deep truth about social revolt. She could never have lived her life without him, this strange, poetic man. He awoke in this outcast, rather vicious girl, a keen longing for the excellent, for the pleasures of the intelligence and the temperament; he gave her an assured sense of her own essential dignity and worth; defended her against the society that rejected her. This was a truly Christ-like thing to do, and this she could never forget or do without. So, in her wilderness, she holds fast to her ideal Terry. But with this idealist she could not live, practically. The growing irritation felt by him because of his radical mal-adjustment to this world rendered him step by step more impossible to live with. Harshness, injustice, became forced upon him as qualities of his acts. How could he be fair when he had no understanding of the nature of actuality? It is probable that no woman can ever get so far away from actuality as a few rare idealists of the male sex. Marie's relative good sense, her vitality and love of life, finally rebelled against an idealism so exquisite that it became cruelty and almost madness. And this is the way with the world. The world cannot, in the end, endure the idealist, though it has great need of him. The world can endure a certain amount of irritation, a certain amount of fundamental revolt, but when that revolt reaches the point of absolute rejection, the world rebels, the worm turns. Marie represents the world and the worm.
Plato said there should be no poets in his Republic. Poets are too disturbing, they fit into no social organisation, for the truth they see is larger and often other than the truth of mankind's housekeeping, of human society. So they are against society. They are for nature, both God's nature and man's nature, but man's organisation arouses their passionate hostility. Therefore, said Plato, let us have no poets in our Republic. But Plato was a poet, and he probably knew that poets, though inimical to the actual working of any actual society, yet are necessary to keep alive the deeper ideals of humankind, to arouse perpetually the instinct for something better than what we have, something deeply better, something radically better, not the mere improvements, palliatives, of the practical man and the conservative, bourgeois reformer.
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