An Anarchist Woman
by Hutchins Hapgood
Duffield & Company
Terry had given Marie life, and she had finally used this vitality to free herself from him and his too exigent idealism. The result of his relation to her seems from this point of view pathetically ironical; but it is only a symbol of the ironical pathos of his relation to society in general; he and his kind act as a stimulant and a tonic to the society which rejects and crushes them. The anarchist is in a double sense the victim of society. He is, in the first place, generally a "labour" victim, is generally the maimed result of our factory system; and, in the second place, his philosophy, needed by society, reacts against himself and turns the world against him. So he is a double victim, a reiterated social sacrifice.
When I went to Chicago this last time I found Terry, as I have said, despondent and disillusioned; and intensely savage in his rejection, not only of capitalistic society, but apparently of all society. In a way, he had left his old moorings, the "proletariat" no longer appealed to him. This mood was not a part of his philosophy: it was an expression of his disappointment, of his disillusionment. He talked about his own life and Marie's with an almost brutal frankness. He seemed to take a sad pleasure in stripping the illusion of human worth and beauty to the bare bones. In spite of his words, in spite of his previous letters, it seemed clear to me that Marie had not lost her hold on him entirely, and that he deeply felt her defection. Through her he had failed socially and personally. Around her much of his life, intellectual and personal, had been wound. Lingeringly he talked of her, of her qualities; he seemed to try to steel himself against all need of human relation; incidentally he rejected me and other friends, finding us wanting. Marie, too, was not perfect, and must be "passed up"; but his mind rested, in spite of himself, on this woman and his life with her. Some of the things he said and wrote to me about this time indicate his present mood toward me, Marie, the anarchists, proletariat, and the world in general.
A year or two ago he wrote me: "No one, very close to me geographically, can ever get much out of me. This is a family trait and is too deep for me. So don't be downcast if we should ever meet again and you should find me as stoical as some crustacean of the past. Some such antediluvian feeling animates me to take advantage of your distance and clamour up out of the depths."
He did, indeed, "clamour up out of the depths" very eloquently, but when I saw him in Chicago I found that I had somehow "lost touch," like the rest of the world, with him. He felt it and wrote me:
"While you were in Italy, I sent you a letter in which I represented myself as one clamouring up out of the depths of his being to you who might understand. Now I sincerely and deeply regret having made this attempt with you. In the same letter I predicted that your return might find me back in the depths of my being, where I belong. I regret I did not stay there when you came along. This feeling is due to no fault of yours or mine; but points to the fact that I must become still more exclusive and circumspect."
Of Marie he wrote: "This attachment between two human beings is in all circumstances very terrible. The bond between Marie and myself was as strong as death, and partly so because of our great and essential differences. The first night we spent together struck one of the deep things in our discord. I was too nervous and sensitive to touch her that night, and in the morning she bitterly reproached me. The first book that really aroused her to the meaning of life was 'Mademoiselle de Maupin.' Deeper than this difference was her galling interference in my affairs which never prompted me to meddle in hers. And her failure to appreciate or reciprocate my respect for the integrity of her personality is the hardest blow she can ever give to me. I have the same fatal charge to make against almost all men; the exceptions are so few and doubtful that I doubt whether I can ever gain from another that intense receptive attitude which I am willing to bestow. Fortunately for me, this illusion that there are such intense perceivers re-creates itself out of the veriest dust and dross of humanity. Like Shelley's 'Cloud,' my illusion may change, but it cannot die. Now I am in a state of mind when I am willing to let everything go by default—everything except my last illusion, that I can never let myself out to anyone. To Marie—and to you—and one or two others—I have been sorely tempted to lay myself out—but not even the moon can seduce me to reveal myself. My dead and buried self is my first and last seduction. This is crazy, of course, but I am heartily sick of all the 'sense' I know or can know. I believe, however, that I have lived so close to the 'truth' that its shadow has been cast over all my life. If, in the last analysis, all is illusion, I shall stick to the most powerful one—myself. My feeling for Marie arises largely from the fact that she is an expression of the irreparable part of my life—of its deepest essence.
"A year ago to-day, on the thirteenth of August," he wrote, "occurred my first, last, and only breakaway from the best pal I have ever hoped to have, Marie. Now that it has passed, I see it in its proper proportions, just as if it had happened to someone else, but to one as near and dear to me as myself. I have broken away from the Mob, too. My sympathy for what is called the People has been worn down to a mere thread that might easily be broken and turn me against them. When one has been stoned long enough, one may easily turn into something as hard as stone itself. I am like the knight of old, turned inside out. I am developing a coating of internal mail, as so many of the attacks come from within. But worse than attacks from within or without is the sordid security and mental inertia of all the people about me: they are strangling me just as surely as if they put a rope around my neck. By day they hurry on like ghosts about their business, and by night they gather in the little tombs of many rooms they call their homes.
"You may call it madness, this my cutting off of all things. I know that I have kept off madness a long while now. I have shrunk from 'business' to social anarchy and pure beings, from these again I have shrunk to books and poetry, from these again into the solitude of myself where only I am really at home. Though I have lost my general bearings, I still stand at the helm of myself. I am going to pieces on the rocks of the world, but I still inhabit the realm of the soul.
"When I could no longer see my ideals rise out of my work, I quit that work; for then the work was no longer an expression of myself. This is the origin of all modern problems. A man stands to his job because of the visions that come to him only when at work. He sees in imagery his own possibilities arise out of the thing on which he is at work, and easily links himself to his fellows. Thus does the worker make of his eternal cerebral rehearsals an endless chain of imaged solidarity binding him in a maze from which he can never think his way out. The fixed gaze of those who try to grasp the abstract is proof of this.
"When I could no longer see my ideals arise out of human solidarity, I quit my fanatical belief in the possibility of a Utopia. So that now I am not even an anarchist. I am ready to pass it all up."
When I saw Terry for the last time, and found him in this almost crazy crisis of extreme individualism, where he hopelessly "passed up" everything—human society, love and friendship, all the things his warm and loving Irish heart really desired, I felt that here indeed was a complete expression of the spirit of revolt. It was so extreme that I and no one else could follow him in it. It had passed beyond the point where social rebellion may be useful or stimulating or suggestive poetically and had reached the sad absurdity of all extreme attitudes. One lesson Terry's proud and strenuous soul has never learned: that the deeper and simpler things in social growth we must take on faith. We cannot demand an ideal reason or justification for all social organisation, for the ways that human beings have of living together. The elementary social forms at least must be instinctively and blindly accepted. To go beyond in one's rejection the anarchism of the social communist into what is called individualistic anarchism is mere egotistic madness and has as its only value the possible poetry of a unified personal expression. Into this it was that Terry fell, and of course he could find no support for it except in his own soul, which could not bear the strain. No soul could, for, struggle as we may, we are largely social and cannot stand alone. Terry's life well shows the sympathetic source of social rebellion and its justification, but it also shows the ultimate sterility of its extreme expression.
The latest word I have about Marie is that she is at work "keeping house for a respectable family" in San Francisco. Her experience in camping-out seems to have rendered her normal to, for her, an extreme degree. Going to work certainly represented as radical a reaction from Terry and his philosophy as well could be imagined. A friend of mine in San Francisco writes of her: "She is now to all appearances a good, respectable girl. She wants to live a new life, is working hard, and is trying to break away from smoking. Sometimes she feels the restraint severely, and comes to our house where she knows she can smoke and express herself. She is in better health, and I think now is in close enough touch with nature not to want to go back for nourishment to ideas and the slum."
The latest word I have from Terry shows him faithful to the end—faithful to his character and his mood:
"There is a rumour that Marie has got a job at general housework. This gave me the blues—after all our life together, this the end! I'd rather have her do general prostitution, with the chance of having an occasional rest in the hospital. But perhaps her drudgery will kill her enthusiasm for 'vita nuova!'
"I should have answered your letter had I not been suffering from an old malady of mine which is accompanied by such mental depression that I could not answer the communication of even a lost soul. I had to seek surcease in my old remedy of hasheesh and chloroform, which was a change from suffering to stupidity. But I shall not swell the cosmic chorus of woe by raising my cracked voice against impending fate. I am more and more alone, more and more conscious of a growing something that is keeping me apart from all whom I can possibly avoid."
Terry is nearing his logical end, while Marie is still struggling for life, life given her in the beginning by this strange man, whose influence was then to take it away from her; and from this, like the world, she rebelled. "Anarchism" she embraced as long as it enhanced her being; as long as this deeply emotional philosophy added to the fulness of her life, she saw its meaning and its use; when it finally tended to sterilise her new existence, its "pragmatic" value was nothing.
This is the test of all social theory: How It Works Out. In Marie's case, as in the case of many proletarians, it worked out well, as a general civilising and consoling philosophy, for a time, but when carried to an "idealistic" extreme, it tended rapidly towards general death—from which all live things react. So it was with Marie: she left her "poisonous" Terry and sought for another vitalising experience. Goethe said that the best government is that which makes itself superfluous. Terry's spiritual influence on Marie, important for her in the beginning as rendering her self-respecting and mentally ambitious, had become superfluous. But it had been of great value to the girl. So, too, with our society. The extreme rebellious attitude educates us—sometimes to the point where rebellion is superfluous.