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

MODERN civilization, irresistible when it spoils and disorganizes barbaric societies, displays a strange incompetence in bettering their condition. It is for want of kindness, for want of humanity. Our genius is neither amiable nor sympathetic. What! to encounter a people so mild andpatient, so well inclined to justice and equity, and to know only how to sobjugate and flog, to decimate and to destroy! This little world possessed gaiety, playfulness, and courage; it asked nothing better than to live by working, but it also wished to sing, dance and feast . And as soon as it encountered our progress, it became sad and morose. These people are still children, but children disillusioned. We have discouraged them by many injustices, so harassed and maddened them, that we have broken the main-spring, have sullied life at its source. Thus it happened to the Guanches, formerly one of the best specimens of the species. Simple, happy, innocent, their islands well deserved the name of "Fortunate." We crushed them. Why and how? And so, when the last of these poor Aleutians has disappeared, it will be said - "The pity of it!". . .

True enough that the earth is nothing but an almost impalpable grain of dust to he vision of the astronomer scanning the nebulae in the field of his telescope, but it is, nevertheless, quite as much worthy of study as any other of the heavenly bodies. If it does not possess magnitude of dimensions, it presents an infinite variety in all its details. Whole generations, living one after the other upon its face, might pass their lives in studying its Phenomena without comprehending all their full beauty. There is not even any special science, having for its aim some portion of the terrestrial surface or some particular series of its products, which does not present to our SAVANTS an inexhaustible field of inquiry. Moreover, is not our little globe, as well as the sky, a real COSMOS, both by the admirable arrangement of its parts, and by its supreme harmony as a whole? In a certain point of view, is not our imperceptible planet as great as the universe, in that it is the expression of the same laws? In the form of its orbit, in its movements round the sun and on its own axis, in the succession of days and seasons, and in all the phenomena governed by the great law of attraction, the earth becomes the representative of all the other planets; in studying it, we study all the heavenly bodies...


Elisée Reclusparatourq

THE first time I heard the name of Elisée Reclus mentioned, I was very young. It was after the defeat of the Commune, when the government of bandits, presided over by the abominable Thiers, wanted to deport Reclus, and when there was raised throughout the scientific world, the movement of protest in favor of the victim. Some time afterward, one of our neighbors, a workingman mason of the name of Villars, desiring to learn the trade of shoemaker, came to work at our house with my father and myself.para

Becoming part of the national guard during the siege, as all those did who were capable of bearing arms, Villars and a great many others similar to himself, had hardly, until then, any opinion of their own. He continued in the service under the Commune which had succeeded the government driven out on the eighteenth of March, as much through passivity as through disappointment at the infamous attitude of those who, no doubt derisively, entitled themselves "Government of the National Defense"!para Made prisoner at the Plateau of Châtillon at the time of the unfortunate sortie, when Duval together with the greater part of his followers were captured, he had seen Duval with two of his officers shot by command of the ignoble Galiffet.para Conveyed to Versailles, then, from there, sent to the pontoons -- was this upon the pontoons or at the fort of Quélern? I have forgotten: it matters very little - he found himself companion in captivity with Elisée Reclus. He related to us the life of the prisoners. How Reclus, in order to combat weariness and discouragement among them, had with the cooperation of other devoted souls organized courses in teaching, in which he and his colleagues tried to impart the knowledge of what they knew to those who had had no opportunity of being able to learn. Villars spoke to us enthusiastically of the moral aid which Reclus had known how to bring to his fellow-prisoners.para Also when the publishing firm of Hachette edited La Géographie Universelle, I was one of those who purchased and read it.para Apropos of this work, the painter Barbottin, who had married the daughter, adopted by Elisée, of an executed communard, told me that when the publication of this monumental work was terminated, and Reclus had one day presented himself at the office, he was answered that instead of having to receive money it was he who owed it to the house. Exploiting his situation as an exile, the firm of Hachette had made him sign a contrat leonin.para However, it subsequently appeared, that, seized with remorse, or more probably with shame, they went back on their courses and consented to give him a slight allowance for a certain period. Later, having embarked upon the Anarchistic movement which, about 1876, was formed in Paris, I sent some articles to the Révolté then appearing at Geneva. It was thus that I entered into relations with Kropotkin who wrote me on the subject of these articles.para When the latter was expelled from Geneva, and then, almost immediately, arrested at Thonon, in France, and when Herzig, no longer being able to consecrate himself entirely to Révolté, I was thought of to go and help him, it was Reclus who came to find me in order to explain the situation, and to ask me if I would consent to go to Geneva.para On the moment, seeing only the occasion to work for propaganda as I understood it, to view the country, learn a new trade, -- that of compositor -- I accepted in a trice. But when it was necessary to conclude, a bit of reflection having occured to me, I ended where I should have begun and said to Reclus: "All this is well and good, but I have never set foot in a printing establishment. Hardly, at least. I had formerly helped in the expediting of l'Égalité of Guesde -- I do not know how a journal is gotten up, would I be able to carry it off well?" "Oh, it is nothing; it only requires to be willing." If it only requires to be willing, in that case I will indeed." Some days later I set out for Geneva.para At that time he lived at Clarens. He came from time to time to see me at Geneva. I never had the occasion to go to Clarens. It is true that I could never find the possibility of participating in one of the excursions organized during the summer Sundays in order to make a tour of the lake. When I was not lacking the price of the journey, I was lacking the time to take it.para

When the Swiss police were placed at the service of the police of Germany, to annoy the German refugees, and when, indirectly Le Révolté was perquisitioned, the office officially closed, its correspondence forbidden the mails, not knowing where all this would finish, Reclus and I decided to transport it to Paris. I believe, indeed, that some comrades at Geneva were quite vexed at this. But there was nothing else to be done. However, it was only at Paris that Le Révolté was able to develop. Some time later Reclus went to live at Nanterre, where I came to see him once or twice. From there he removed to Sèvres, where I went from time to time. During one of these visits we went to see Cladel who lived very near.para

Another time Reclus had come to await me at the pier. We directed our steps very leisurely toward the villa he occupied, rather distant from the Seine. Two old women walked before us, telling each other their little affairs. All at once they stopped. One of them had just noticed that she had forgotten her purse, in which were three sous that she needed in order to make an urgent purchase! para They, deliberated upon what to do. Neither did the other have any money about her! paraImpulsively Reclus addressed himself to the woman in trouble, and drawing the three sous out of his pocket, said: "Pardon me, madame, but will you permit me to relieve you from embarrasment? Such a little sum!" And he offered his three sous. paraI never saw women so scandalized by this boldness! Reclus might as well have proffered them shameful proposals as honest words! They could not be more shocked. Reclus had to replace his sous in his pocket.para This story recalls another which my wife heard from the wife of a very well-known Cambridge professor.para Elisée had come to their house at London. He came to consult some documents which he knew he could find at the British Museum. He had gone away from their house that morning, to make these researches, before departing early the next day.para It was late when he returned. They asked him if he had found what he needed. And Reclus confessed that he had brought away nothing at all. Arriving at the British Museum he had come across a group of visitors-who were totally unknown to him-stopping before the Freizes of the Parthenon, known in England under the name of the Elgin Marbles. paraHe had been so struck by the perplexed attitude of these visitors, that he could not refrain from approaching them, and trying to explain to them what they did not understand. From one thing to another he had made the tour of the galleries, trying to initiate them into the beauties before which he made them pause. So long a time had he done this and so well, that the dosing hour had arrived and Reclus had to go back as he had come.para As a set-off, the lady who told this to my wife was not sure if Reclus had not confided to her that his protégés had, aside, and among themselves, consulted if it would not be proper to give the price of a drink to their kind cicerone.para It is needless to say that Reclus was not at all vain of his great knowledge. He was able to listen to objections from whatever source they came, and to answer them without any pride and without the sharp tone of one who issues decrees, and admits of no discussion. I think I have written likewise of Kropotkin, but it goes for Reclus also. para All those who knew him have spoken of his tolerance, his great kindness. It is unnecessary to insist upon these characteristics. One ought to add thereto his simplicity of tone and of manner. para As to his tolerance and his kindness, I should even confess that more than once it irritated my nerves and often enough placed us in opposition against each other when it was a question of matters of propaganda. para That everyone should have the right to think as he understands, and to express himself in his own way, is self-evident. We who claim liberty are not going to protest against that. para But have imbeciles or ill-disposed persons the right to distort the ideas which you defend? To deform them to the point of making them express just the opposite? And thus to annihilate the propaganda that you spread? para I consider that in this case it is foolishness or feebleness to allow them to claim ideas which you defend in order to spread their unhealthy lucubrations. That is what Reclus did not wish to see, and which more than once placed us at grips. I have from him a pile of letters in response to mine, which demonstrate that we were far from understanding one another on the above point. para Kindness! Tolerance! Good understanding! As much as you will in matters of ordinary life. In matters of propaganda, particularly when that propaganda places you in conflict with existing institutions, it is often dangerous, not only for you, but for others, as much as for the ideas defended, to urge this kindness and tolerance too far.para Through his kindness, through his confidence in the goodness of others, Reclus, more than once allowed himself to take up cudgels for types little to be commended, who deceived him - that was an accident of little importance - but which placed the propaganda in a wrong light.para I may be asked: "who of us in the course of his life has not been deceived or mistaken in individuals?" I agree. But the tolerance of Reclus facilitated deceit by far too much.para It was especially on the question of theft that we were often at grips. "Thieves!" he would write me, "we are all thieves and I the foremost, working for an editor and trying to get for salary ten, nay, twenty times the ordinary wages of an honest man. All is robbery."para This argument was splitting hairs a little too fine. Proceeding from an excess of scruples, it was absolutely to the honor of him who put it forth. But in matters of sociology, of propaganda, one must not reason solely by sentiment.para It is because society is malformed that we want to reform it. It is because theft is unhealthy that we desire a society where it will no longer have any raison d'être. It is neither in extolling theft nor in multiplying thieves that we will establish a harmonious society.para Reclus did not extol theft, but he was too tolerant to those who did extol it.para "We must not judge others." That is still possible in the general sense, but when, in a struggle, individuals, on pretext of defending the ideas you propagate, come to pervert these ideas to the point of rendering them repulsive to those whom you desire to convince, ought you to permit them to be perverted, under pretext of liberty, and with the excuse that one must not pose as judge of another? After all, when we criticize existing institutions, politicians, rulers, do we not judge them? General verities are well enough for generalizations, but not always for particular cases.paraIn a movement of ideas which has so many prejudices to combat before being understood, it is the duty of those who struggle to make it victorious to combat those who, through lack of understanding, misrepresent it, still more so when it is a matter of backsliders and of swindlers, or police seeking to lead it astray in order to satisfy their appetites or because they are being paid to do so.para And events have proven me right. It is because too many of our comrades have too kindly supported the demoralizing work of a lot of rogues, in not reacting seriously against individualistic deviation, that we have been flooded with this mob, which, today floods the land, doing its utmost to annihilate our forty years of propaganda.para

Later, when Reclus went to live at Belgium, I saw him no longer than between one train and another. On the way to Paris, he came to the office, or at the printing shop, when it was the day for printing. We went to dine at some restaurant of the neighborhood, exchanging ideas, then he set off again, carrying some copy to review, some book of which to give an account. I kept for him principally books of verse, feeling myself incompetent to judge them.para Even on journeys he worked, always having some leaves of paper and a pencil to take notes.para Re-reading his letters, I see that the disease which carried him off was working in him for a long time.para

His death was an intellectual loss. But it is today that we feel it deeply, seeing the movement going to confusion inthe hands of ignoramuses, misleaders, prattlers, strutters and even worse. He and Kropotkin -we miss them frightfully. Had they been alive, we would doubtlessly have been able to dam up this deviation. But they are no more. And up to the present I see the advent of no one capable of replacing them.



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