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--"Correspondence"(1)

he first two volumes of the "Correspondence" of Elisée Reclus were published in 1911 by the noted editorial house of Schleicher Bros. (of whom the present editor of the 3rd volume is the successor); and it was a real pity that the publication should have been interrupted. That is why we have greeted with joy, as the arrival of a dear friend, this third volume published fourteen years later, which completes a work that appears to us of primary interest from the historical, cultural and anarchistic point of view. We will treat here of the "Correspondence" of Elisée Reclus from the last view-point, which, naturally, interests us most--that of anarchism. Everyone knows the Elisée Reclus, completely absorbed by his scientific studies has written but little of anarchistic theories: a book, four or five brochures, and a moderate number of articles in journals and magazines. There could perhaps be included among his anarchistic writing also his volumes "L'Homm et la Terre", in which has accomplished, so to speak, in the anarchistic sense, the historical and scientific syntheses, the sociological conclusions of his great "Universal Geography". But the objectivity of the savant, in this work also, leaves almost altogether to the reader, the task of determining and deducing the anarchistic principles which give it form.

On the contrary, in the "Correspondence", anarchism takes precedence before the eyes of the reader not anarchism coldly doctrinarian and smelling of the lamp, but anarchism alive with action, vibrant with passion, sentiment and enthusiasm. The mental and moral personality of Reclus flows ever before us vivacious and palpitant, in the most beautiful harmony between thought and action and in all its coherence and dignity of man and militant.

The life of Elisée Reclus, as we follow it through the perusal of his letters, develops in a logical and progressive course, and by successive mental and spiritual elevation with. out ever swerving. His entire passage through the chosen road has always remained the same, it was but the result of the preceedidg road, different from this world by being brighter, more conscious, and more in rapport with the ideal scope of his life.

When, barely of age, he wrote to his parents with a heart full of hope in the future, determined to fight for his ideas, impatient of all obstacles, finally, when more than half a century later, when serenely dying, yet happy to read the telegrams on the success of the Russian revolution of that year:1905), the supreme ideal of his life and his apostleship remained the same--the successive modifying and perfecting of programmes and formulas--that is to say, the ideal synthesized in the word "anarchism", as effort of amelioration and self-elevation, as constant battle against all political, economical, and religious tyrannies, as tendency to realise a concordant society of free and equal constituents, with labour and science in fraternal harmony and an always grander justice.

It is obvious throughout his "Correspondence", that Elisée Reclus had commenced within his own self this revolution and with this example, he also shows us that the first duty of one who would rid society of the material and exterior tyrannies is to liberate oneself from within of the tyrannies of basest egoism, of one's own unhealthy tendencies cowards oppression and the hereditary parasitism of a sad past, nearing the human ideal desired and making oneself a worthy and useful combatant.

The life of Reclus, as it appears throughout all the volume of letters,--which for us has the same value as an autobiography, and perhaps more--may be deemed the most efficient "propaganda through deed" of the anarchist principles, in which his life, his deeds, his public and private conduct, his words were all in harmony with the idea of anarchism; in everything was constantly apparent his care not to place himself in contradiction with his libertarian and revolutionary convictions. He truly was able to say with a show of right that he had "lived his own life", if this expression is to be taken in its greatest significance of living according to duty freely chosen, in the daily accomplishment of the voluntarily elected mission.

The leit-motif of all these letters of Elisée Reclus, that which particularly strikes the reader and moves him, is the immense kindness which inspired him. Not, be it understood, the inferior and incomplete kindness of the resigned, the humble and the servile. The goodness of Elisée Reclus was a militant and combatant goodness, in arms against evil, in. justice, oppression, against every vice and falsehood. That is why reading the "Correspondence" is not only of use as propaganda of ideas, but also has a revivifying efficiency of sentiment, a highly educational influence. In dark moments of disillusion and uncertainty, "in the cruel hour of the wolves" (as Pascoli terms it) in which human fraternity seems to die beneath the glacial storm of hate, when our hearts seem to dose against hope and we feel the need of a source of love from which to draw the strength of resistance, to open the pages of this volume of letters is of great moral comfort. The serenity and affection which emanate from them for us here serve alike to conquer all despair and all pessimism.

His letters of erudition, also, reflecting upon his geographical voyages, are read with a pleasure not unmixed with sweetness, because he who writes them is not only the savant in his seat of learning, but the friend, the brother, the comrade, the equal who speaks to his equal, and speaks with a cordiality and dignity that never falters.

The letters to his parents, sisters and brothers, to his daughters, to all his relations and more intimate friends are full of an inexpressible tenderness. There is an abundance of that true and proper anarchistic propaganda which seeks to explain and make comprehensive libertarian ideas to friends of contrary opinion. These letters are not only addressed to those who believe, in whom the sentiment of solidarity strongly vibrates, occasionally they seek to correct fraternally some mental kink, or pour their disdain over some equivocation, or conquer some error. Moreover, they are most for those in whom fierce disdain chastises the inimical ill faith and oppression which vainly seek to stop the course of ideas.

From the scientific, historical, and political point of view the "Correspondence" has, moreover, a notable importance. A large part of the first volume, for example, refers to the geographical voyages of Elisée Reclus in America. . .

From the anarchistic view-point, the second and third volumes are of more interest; in them are heard the echoes of the first International, the Commune of Paris, the first anarchistic movement, with Le Révolté and the Kropotkin trial at Lyons, the terrorist period and bombardment of Anarchism (1892-1894), etc. From this period it is established with what proud dignity Reclus was able to keep his head through the insidious reaction which focussed upon him, causing him to suspend his course in geography at the Free University of Brussels--he who founded the Université Nouvelle, still in existence.

But, we do not weary of repeating it, the greatest value of the "Correspondence" of Elisée Reclus lies in its educational and moral character. . . Those who, perusing this volume of letters, will not feel themselves moved by it, may be said to be able also to understand and approve anarchism as a cold theory, but not to feel it as the ideal of human life. For, without the moral sentiment, all the verities of anarchism would be entirely insufficient and sterile.



(1)"Correspondence" vol. III; Published by Alfred Coste, Paris, 1925.

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