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

HUS, EVEN YESTERDAY, COULD MERIAHS BE OBSERVED UPON THE SPOT, LIVING RELICS OF A PREHISTORIC RELIGION. THE EVOLUTIONS THROUGH WHICH MANKIND has passed in time, are repeated in space. In the windings and innermost recesses of the labyrinth formed by mountains & valleys, with divers climates and aspects varied by the action of dry or rainy winds, the intellectual flora of earlier periods is to be found, scattered, but almost complete. Ages outlive themselves, and each is impressed by the others. The tiny dewdrop, the very tiniest, reflects a whole country side; in like manner may our individuality, which yet is so short-lived, be present at the long procession of the ages, and make itself the contemporary of times gone by and days to come; it needs but to see and look into what is round us, it needs but to understand it.

These Khonds, these Todas and Badagas, these Apaches, these Esquimaux, are scorned as being merely infant peoples, are despised as possessing merely the rudiments of intelligence and morality. But it is just because of their childish intelligence, their rudimentary morality, that they ought to excite interest. Great men, those who are wise and advanced, represent only their own personality; superior individuals cannot teach us so much as the weaker and humbler, who show us humanity at its outset. Naturalists attach at least as much significance to the infinitely small as to the infinitely great; infusoria, mucus, ferments, moulds, attract their thought as much as solar systems, the trajectories of comets, constellated vortices. Neither is there anything too mean for the moralist; for the wretchedest of men is still his brother, bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. In our species there is nothing grand, there is nothing base, in which we are not conjointly concerned. Have we not been told how Newton saw an apple fall, and asked himself, Why? Thinking upon it, be beheld the confused multitude of stars shaken from their places; from all sides they inclined towards the milky way, and therein were swallowed up, decomposed, composed once more. Two words flamed forth upon the dark depths in the immensity of space: Universal Gravitation.




HAVE certainly not the necessary skill to draw Elie Reclus' portrait; but while I could not tell all that I owe to him, I may at least try to explain why I regard him as my best master, though I was never his pupil in the ordinary sense of the word.

After more than half a century his face comes clearly before my mind's eye as it appeared to me for the first time. Why was I, at the outset, so surprised and, presently, so charmed? I was, less than ten years old; I knew nothing of life; I had never seen anybody like him. Was it his expression, quizzical yet full of kindness? Was it his voice, soft, clear and penetrating? Was it his talk? He spoke in a style that was new to me; not that he used scientific terms or big words, but his language was vivid, pungent and racy. Later in life I received a similar impression on reading Montaigne. I recall his telling tales about animals, perhaps a story of some particular bird, which he made intensly interesting by the interest he took in it himself.

In the years that followed, I may say till his death, it was frequently my good fortune to meet Elie Reclus. I have heard him discourse on all sorts of subjects; I have accompanied him on visits to museums and galleries; I have had opportunities of comparing him with others; and, in the long run, I have come to see clearly what, as a child, I vaguely felt. He was one of those in whom keen intelleetual insight can never chill the heart. A man such as Elie Reclus knows men, and sees right through them; he has no illusions about them; nevertheless he loves them. Their beliefs are often absurd. What of that? He takes an interest in them; he studies, understands, and explains them. Their vanity makes him smile; their all too real sorrows touch him. He does not complain of their meanness but, never yielding to disgust, he seeks, and ultimately finds, their redeeming qualities. His highest pleasure is to admire. When he comes upon a thought free from baseness, a sincere utterance, a generous act, an effort making for truth or harmony -- anything fit to give a touch of beauty to this sad life of ours -- he rejoices deeply, and teaches others to rejoice.

What service can compare with that?


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