From: Ishill, Joseph. (1927). Élisée and Élie Reclus: In Memoriam. Compiled, ed. and printed by Joseph Ishill. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Oriole Press.


The Parthenon, though riddled by the shells of the Venetian Morosini, and robbed since of its finest sculptures, still retains its pure and simple beauty, which agreed Jo well with the sobriety of the surrounding landscape still remains the finest architectural work of the world. By the side of this majestic rein, on the same plateau of the Acropolis, where the mariner in the Gulf of AEgina saw the gilt spear-head of Athene Promachos glitter in the sun, there ride other monuments, the Erechtheum and the Propylaea, hardly inferior to it, and dating likewise from the great period of art.


Remarkable ruins have been discovered in many other parts of the ancient city, and the least of them are of interest, for they recall the memory of illustrious men. On such a rock sat the Areopagus which condemned Socrates, from this stone tribune Demosthenes addressed the multitude, and here walked Plato with hid disciples.

A Great Geographer: Elisee Reclus

he writing of biography is plainly one of those fields which must longest await reduction to scientific methods. Here most of all, amongst the puzzles of evolution, the difficulty seems supreme, the complexity greatest. Each individual is at his best unique, and the great man is a culminating product of past tendencies and forces, all hard to unravel, and perhaps yet harder to estimate at their respective importance whether for him or for the world. Such in fact is the many-sidedness of every full life, every developing and varied career, that we may have as many biographies as there chance to be biographers, perhaps as many fresh interpretations of these as they find reflective readers. Yet here is no mere confusion, but the early struggle of what may be developed into distinct methods of biographic treatment, and these only in appearance rival ones. In the study of lower forms of life the first investigator gives himself especially to the task of formal and outward description of the adult organism as he sees it; another dissects, another classifies. Soon, however, some other complements these presentments--all too static--by inquiries into the inward life and its functioning; another by a study of the life in its wider outward relations to its fellows, its struggle of love and hunger amid the great world--its whole environment, in short. But none of these investigators is as yet fully an evolutionist; hence new schools of workers must take up the task. One reinvestigates the developments of individual infancy, or of such metamorphoses as that which in our own species we are beginning to appreciate as adolescence. Another strives to unearth the essential secret from the strata of ancestral history. Neither description, however complete, of racial origins nor of individual phases of development, can satisfy us. Phylogeny and ontogeny must be united, and each alike needs to become rational. For this the eventful outward struggle for existence must be examined anew, and anon the inward temperament and tendency re-read.

All these various lines of investigation have still to be harmonised; and only then, out of contending or isolated specialisms, shall we have an adequate biology. So it is with analogous studies in the world of men. Hence the sociologist struggles to unify the vast, but almost chaotic materials, which anthropologist and scholar, historian and economist, and many more are ever pouring upon him, each careful as to his own facts, but seldom heedful of their general bearing The social psychologist, the biographer, cannot wait till all these sciences are completed; for him even more than for all others, the stream of phenomena never ceases, its events must be taken as they come, observed and recorded at least, interpreted as far as may be.

Without waiting, then. for a completed method of biography, we may best progress towards this by making the most of existing ones, which indeed need little more than to be specialised here and generalised there--each one developed to the utmost possible, yet all taken together. Thus our collections of annals can hardly be too complete, even if outer facts, circumstances, events, seem apparently small; for it is in biographical interpretation as in medical diagnoses; a detail, a symptom is no longer trivial when we can read its meaning. Still, however we may hold with some that a Boswell's value lies largely in his own pettiness, our records must essentially be of the phase of personal development, and of their characteristic expression, their essential productivity. Given these annals, then, in their continuous serial presentment of the years, we have to reconstitute the essential phases of life; the child in his parentage and home, the youth at college, and in the larger environment of his wander years, settling to life and work, his outward crisis, his inward developments. We must consider all these in themselves, and in their reaction upon the maturing life work; and so prepare for a just estimate of this both from the standpoint of the specialist and of the larger world. Yet these estimates are also changing; and this not only during life; nor at its close, but in the world's realization of its concrete legacy, its absorption of less material influence and impulse.

Towards some such regularising of biographies, towards orderly description and comparative treatment, the lives of men of science, of inventors and artists also, since all in their way are so plainly children of a larger growth, lend themselves more easily than do those spent in the complex struggles of the temporal or the spiritual world. Yet where such comparatively clear and simple lives are plainly affected by the greater streams of thought and of events, and in turn react towards these, we have biographies of peculiar instructiveness, since our inquiries into individual and social evolution must peculiarly unite. Such lives are still rare; for the man of science must more naturally be found among the cloistered regulars rather than in the busy secular world. Hence a peculiar interest in such a life as that of Reclus. That school of thought which most insists on deriving all things from the geographical milieu has here the man whose essential distinction it is to have attained to the universal consciousness of the material world and most to have prompted this. Yet those who explain a personality by its directive ideals, or those who interpret each career as essentially a resultant of the social and political events of its time, will each find a representative man in this young idealist of '48, this veteran of the siege of Paris, this irreconcilable exile from the Commune.

Beginning then, with the annals of this long and busy life, we are able, thanks to the care and courtesy of his nephew, M. Paul Reclus, to subjoin in colorless presentment that essential outline of facts and dates which his future biographer will thus fortunately find to his hand waiting to be vitalised. Of primary importance cowards that reconstruction of the earlier phases of life-, upon which our interest and understanding alike so much depend, will be found his brief but admirable recent outline of the life of his much beloved elder brother and life long friend, Elie. So intimate were the two brothers, and despite complemental temperaments and studies, so similar was their early experience, that much of this small biographic sketch may be read at the same time as an autobiographic one, and indeed as one of superior value to autobiography proper, since the writer is without thought of self at all. In this sketch we see a type of home life, which is also one of our own national traditions, for has not the intellectuality and the idealism of Calvinism, its sternness and its strength, culminated in the pastor of the Cevennes, in the Scottish minister of the Covenant or of the Disruption? The schooling of both boys by the Moravian Brothers at their then notable school of Neuwied, where they seem to have been thoroughly grounded in both classical and modern subjects, if disillusioned with its theology, and where they met representatives of many nations, is briefly but vividly told. Here, too, the young Reclus were prepared for their wide interest and sympathy with men of all nations, not only by every form of physical encounter with the representative boy barbarians of each; or even by the ready assimilation of the leading languages which such a mixed school favoured; but also by forming enduring friendship with Germans, Dutchmen, Englishmen, among whom notably our own George Meredith.

In the main, however, Reclus' work did not lack the appreciation it deserved; all the more because, as a master of descriptive prose, he raised anew geography into literature, victoriously challenging a higher and keener criticism than that even of his own workfellows in science. To appraise this arc-at work we- must consider it in its place in literature. Adequately to attempt this would involve a muster of kindred great and synthetic works of descriptive science from the eighteenth century onwards, and notably from Buffon's Histoire Naturelle to Humboldt's Cosmos. It would require an analysis of the influence of not a few of the literary masterpieces of three generations, from Ossian, from Bernardin's classic Paul et Virginie, Rousseau's return to nature, onwards through Chateaubriand's imperishable transcripts of his own experiences in America (Les Natchez, Atala, etc.), to the idylls of peasant life of Georges Sand, or to the purple prose of Michelet, as much by nature a poet as a historian. Nor could our inquiry remain on French soil alone. Without Ruskin's Modern Painters, itself within its limits, as Professor Gregory [J. W. Gregory, The Teaching of Geography, Melbourne] points out, "one of the finest works in the whole range of geographical literature," our comparison would be incomplete; and here indeed a fresh essay on comparative criticism would be but beginning. Enough, however, if we note here two points. First that each science in turn needs to be raised into literature, and this even for its own sake as well as for the world's; so that Huxley or Geikie in their popular writings on natural science, or in more abstract fields, William James or Herbert Spencer, with their minor books or essays, are no less truly advancing science than with their technical works, such writing being not merely "popular", but architectonic. Secondly, we may also note that, while each generation must naturally renew its surveys of science, for itself, circumstances may give this or that world-survey a peculiar permanence. This is doubly the case for the great work we are discussing, and indeed for all its best contemporaries; for we must not forget that the intense Nature passion, so characteristic of all the eighteenth and nineteenth century romantics, from Ossian and Rousseau to Ruskin and Reclus, began with the encroachment of the industrial revolution upon the beauty af nature, and culminated with the vast and reckless destruction of natural and historic beauty by the railway and manufacturing age. In these- men's youth nature was still to be seen in virginal loveliness, pure from snow to, sea, and cities still enthroned upon their past, each unique in its homely or its monumental beauty, since in either case the cumulative museum and treasure-house of the ages. They lived to see all these more ignorantly, ruthlessly demolished or transformed than ever by the desolation of past conquests, the wilful wreckage of ancient wars. Hence their descriptions are so strongly colored; hence they range from passion to pathos, joy to despair; but we must read them to know the Alps before they became funicular hotel-playgrounds. Hence Ruskin's bitter lament over the polluted Wandel is matched by Reclus' last and briefest description of the prosperous Rhine. Yet that Reclus had no undue fear of change, was no enemy to progress, surely needs no assertion here: his book is not only in great part a record of the conquest of nature by man, but a continual incitement to this. But enough here of its various excellences; each lover of geography may best find them for himself. -- -- -- -- --

To know the magnum opus is in this case yet to know the man. It was much to describe the rich variety of nature in all her regions, to unify these into one harmonious survey of the world, almost the Cosmos at which Humboldt himself had aimed: yet all this was but one side of his life-work; the other, henceforth inextricably one with it, was to present and to promote- a correspondingly unified conception of man. The geographer, starting as he must from nature and travelling towards man as the latest product of its evolution, was in Reclus' mind increasingly complemented by the sociologist, with his converse perspective, his view of man as of essential interest, the world as but his stage, his background. A goodly stage indeed, as Reclus of all men assuredly felt, and worthy of all the study we can bring to it; yet its complex evolution is but the opening of the plot; humanity is its hero. Hence for Reclus, almost as much as for Comte, the sciences, mathematical, physical, natural, are no longer ends in themselves, but preliminaries. Each, it is true, is justified indeed more than ever a worthy end to its specialised workers, since henceforth both in principles and generalisations insisted upon as an element in the general scheme of knowledge. But this is to say that all the sciences make up a cosmology, which the comprehensive world-geographer, once Humboldt, or again Reclus, presents in its concrete aspect; and the synthetician, the evolutionist from Kant to Spencer, seeks to verify yet farther in abstract interpretation, while man is man, he must seek to expand his cosmic knowledge, to deepen his cosmic sense: and, as each of these just named has in his own way borne witness, this cosmic interest ever prepares and makes place for some corresponding enlargement of the human.

In this way, then, the Geographie Universelle was naturally supplemented by a Geographie Sociale. This has, in fact, not only been in progress for ten years or more since the completion of the former, but its four volumes are said to be practically ready for publication, surely not now to be delayed. [This work was published a few years after the death of Elisee Reclus, under the caption: "L'Homme et la Terre", edited by his nephew, Paul Reclus. It is a pity that no English translation has yet appeared of this important scientific and literary contribution, wherein this unique rebel appears at his best. - -EDITOR.] For though Reclus could not rival the historic insight of Comte, the imagination of Michelet, the technological mastery and interpretation of Le Play, the psychology of Taine, the abstract power of Spencer, or the like, he had the advange of knowing in his own way more of the concrete world than any of these, perhaps than all put together; hence his presentment of sociology may be well looked forward to.



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