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

Elisée Reclus Reminiscences

ABOUT 1877 I was collaborating with my old friend Elisée Reclus, the great French geographer. As we were once conversing in his study, the servant brought in a visiting-card from a gentleman who was very anxious to see him. Elisée Reclus pushed over the piece of cardboard to me, saying:

"He must very likely be an Italian." On the visiting card we read: MIRCEA C. ROSETTI, and I also thought he must be an Italian anarchist. Reclus requested that the visitor be introduced directly into the study. My friend always acted thus when he desired that visitors should not consume too much of his time which he reserved for scientific works.

There entered a youth with long hair reaching down to his shoulders, delicately-outlined features, somewhat large eyes, which were darkened by a cloud of melancholy and suffering. He introduced himself as a Roumanian, anxious to become acquainted with the great French writer and geographer. Elisée Reclus tendered him his hand and invited him to be seated. Then he introduced me, saying:

"Here is a countryman of yours, the editor of our paper Le Travailleur."

I was very glad to see a Roumanian in our study, where until then, though representatives of all countries of Europe and Asia paraded before us, a Roumanian had not yet crossed our threshold. Our discussion, most naturally, was on the subject of Roumania.

Elisée Reclus complained that when he wanted to write about Transylvania inhabited by a Roumanian-speaking population and desired the toponomy of that country to be written in the language spoken by the inhabitants, he addressed himself to the Geographical Society of Bucharest begging it to aid him in this undertaking.

"But I have not received any reply," continued Reclus with an ironic smile. "Thus I was compelled to apply to the Hungarian resources of Budapest which, with the greatest kindness, were placed at my disposal."

These words left a painful impression upon me and evidently also upon Mircea C. Rosetti, who with the courtesy and good-will so proper to the Roumanian declared himself at the disposal of the great geographer, promising his whole collaboration for a second edition of his works.

Elisée Reclus thanked him warmly:

"It is indeed to be regretted that you have not come a little earlier. My work is very extensive and I do not think I shall ever live to see a second edition of it. I am sorry that in my work, as it is now presented, the localites of purely Roumanian origin have been named in the Hungarian. Mais... c'est n'est pas de ma faute."

Later on, as we discussed different topics, we arrived at the motives which caused him to participate in the Commune of Paris. Elisée Reclus gave his view on nationalism as he understood it.

"I am an absolute federalist, and as such, although I do not occupy myself with politics, I have taken part as a common soldier in the cause of the Parisian proletariat. I am against large nations. The great empires of the East were always dominated over by tyrants. The Asiatic inhabitants, up to the present time, are ignorant of the liberties which we are enjoying in Europe. New ideas, progress, have always issued from the small nations; on the borders of Asia, where today Syria is located there once existed many states which were communal towns pure and simple.

"In Asia, even in the eastern part of Europe, were tents of peoples who formed into small states. Here, in the midst of these small states, the conception of liberty and the rights of citizenship had its beginnings. Here is the germ and the cradle of philosophy. Science has here also freed herself from the chains of dogma. Beauty has taken a form in art and poetry, and also here, Asiatic despotism has reached the limits of its mighty power. These nations have not been content with this inner life; they have penetrated the very heart of Asia; they had an exceedingly great influence on Egypt. Having themselves been vanquished, they forced their conquerors to adopt their ideas and civilization and to bow before their ideals.

"Greece was vanquished by Rome--a simple town, a small republic. And this little town has done more for the civilized world than any large nation. It became the head of a collossal empire, such as never existed until then, and not from thenceforth. And by whom was this empire destroyed? By some small nations who have attacked it separately, not having anything in common with one another, and who have moreover hindered one another--by letting their blood pour over the fields of the great empire. From this ruin have sprung to life various large nations, forming monarchies and adopting the feudal system for the consolidation of the rights of property and the strength of the Government. Humanity thought that through this system it would fill up the gaps which sever the nations.

"Each feudal lord became a petty monarch and the inhabitants of the region dominated over by him were all his vassals. And there you have humanity sunk in slavery.

"From this unfortunate situation the European nations could not escape otherwise than through the revolt of the small nations. At the head of these movements we find the large towns of Italy, Germany and England who succeeded in capturing for themselves a comparative inpependence, assuring themselves with law, courts, and well-established armies. This movement dealt the last blow to feudalism; industrial progress invited the most far-scattered nations. Towards the end of the middle ages again the idea of states begins to revive the concentration of power, of national unity, and simultaneous with this despotism and autocracy enslave humanity anew.

"Liberty finds a shelter in Germany where the independent cities were against uniting into one big empire, in Holland where the republic of the provinces is formed, and in England where the cities and provinces still preserve up till the present their autonomy. When the nations of the rest of Europe were sunk in deep darkness, enslaved by the pages of the Bible, in the above countries the human mind went freely along the paths of progress pondering over the problems of science and philosophy.

"In our own times the rights of man are more respected by the little states than by the large ones, more in the federal nations than in the republics and monarchies united. Russia and China, the vastest nations, are hotbeds of the most barbaric despotism.

"I, personally, believe only in small nations where man's individuality is more free and less dependent on matters of state. In Belgium, in Portugal, life is much easier than in Switzerland where we, emigrants of all countries always find shelter, the inhabitants have reached the most cultured liberty possible in the present organization of the social life of mankind.

"This is the history of mankind," continued Elisée Reclus, that is why I fought, weapon in hand, alongside of the federalists of the Commune of Paris."

About 1879 I went to Roumania deciding to establish myself in that country. About 1884, Elisée Reclus, going on a scientific voyage in Asia Minor, had visited me at Bucharest.

I then lived in Strada Nerva Traian, in a house built in the midst of a vineyard, not far from the mineral waters. I asked him how he could possibly have located me in such a secluded place where I was living.

Elisée Reclus assured me smilingly: "Ne suis-je donc pas un géographe?"

With no guide whatsoever he questioned the passers-by, some in German, some in French. He knew the way to find there where often the very postmen could not find me to deliver my mail.

Elisée Reclus spent a few days in Bucharest. I round-the-towned him through the the whole city, and wanting to show him all that was most characteristic of our Capital, I thought of showing him the Russian Scopitzi. [A beardless sect, where the man is almost taken for a woman, and who were then, occupied as the select coachmen in driving the idle Roumanian boieri (landlords), who came from their provinces for a feast. This caricature of so-called high life has also appealed to my sense of humor.--EDITOR. ] Reclus proved to be very enthusiastic over my plan.

This was the last time I saw Elisée Reclus. The great geographer died, not of old age, but of that collossal intellectual work which he had imposed upon himself in the course of his entire life....

And until the last moment of his life he was interested in the social movements of all countries. His daughter sat at his deathbed and read to him the telegrams from Russia, which announced the progress of the revolution, the revolt of the man-of-war "Potemkin", and the proclamation of the first Russian republic. Elisée was luminously smiling... He had no more strength to speak. After a few hours he died peacefully and in full consciousness.



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