HEN Elisée Reclus came to Brussels in 1894 to begin his course of Comparative Geography, he was eagerly expected by auditors whom circumstances had prepared to give him a warm welcome.
Not long before, a dispute about him had occured at the Université Libre. The political world and a section of the bourgeoisie, as well as the youth of the university, had passionately taken part in it, because at that time all Belgium, especially the Capital, was at the formative and effervescent stage of its intellectual life.
Sixty years earlier the Belgians, by a vigorous effort, had won their independence. Their internal history during the first decades was little more than the struggle between the Catholic Party and the Liberals, the Catholic Party being much the more powerful. Presently the Socialists appeared. Parties multiplied, and hostilities grew bitter. In 1895, a first amendment of the constitution extended the sufrage considerably. Education was improved by both public and private eforts. Girls' schools were opened; and a strong artistic movement arose among this people in whom the gifts of painting and music are hereditary.
Those who passed their youth in Brussels, at that period and in these surroundings, recall it as a time of feverish happiness.
The Université Libre of Brussels was founded in 1834 with "Free Enquiry" as its watchword. Set up in opposition to the Catholic University of Louvain, it became the reservoir of science for Brussels. It began bravely, with professors of lofty independence, but it hardly kept pace with the progress of thought. Its administrators, having a cold and narrow conception of their educative mission, lagged behind. Still, under pressure exerted by the youth of the university, some reforms were effected in the composition of the administrative council. In 1889, a Fellowship was conferred on William de Greef whose works were beginning to gain celebrity, and whose breadth of thought contrasted with the spirit of the establishment. He was even authorized to give a free course of Sociology.
But shortly after, the Faculty of Philosophy rejected a young candidate for a Fellowship, because his thesis was tainted with Determinism. During this period of vacillation, a Rector was sacrificed for being too frankly conservative, and some months later, Hector Denis, a great-hearted sociologist much loved by the students, was promoted to the Rectorship.
Thanks to him, the Faculty of Science, in 1892, proposed Elisée Reclus for a Fellowship. The Council, after ratifying this proposal, invited the new Fellow to come and give a course of Comparative Geography in the recently organized Faculty of Social Science. Elisée Reclus accepted, but begged to put off his course until the beginning of 1894, after the completion of his Universal Geography.
On December 30th, 1893, the Rector, Hector Denis, communicated to the Council a letter in which Reclus proposed to begin his course early in March
At that date opinion was profoundly stirred by the recent attempts of the Anarchists. Vaillant's bomb had lately burst in the semicircle of the French Chamber. "The violent attacks of the socialist press against capitalist society redoubled on the occasion of this crime" as the Administrative Inspector of the Université Libre did not fail to remark. Towards the end of December, an unknown hand distributed through the lobbies of the University, and in several public places in Brussels, an apology for the Anarchist movement, extracted from an early publication of Elisée Reclus.
When called on by the professor to fix a date for beginning his course of Geography, the Council "considered that the time was inopportune" and resolved to adjourn the course, giving their decision the appearance of a mere postponement. Of this decision Elisée Reclus was advised by a letter from the Administrative Inspector, who alleged the possibility that undesirable demonstrations might be provoked by causes outside the scope of the lectures.
Elisée replied (on January 13th) . . . "The possibility of disorderly manifestations, you tell me, appears to you more to be dreaded for our University than the withdrawal of your twice repeated invitation to express my thoughts freely. I made no complaint, and will only say that the attitude I should have adopted--that of a man sincerely and modestly in quest of truth--would probably have been enough to check any manifestations; and that if, after all, it had been otherwise, I should certainly have resigned on the ground of incompetence.
Although you have not deemed it necessary to summon me before your Council, you tell me that your decision implies no personal censure. I am glad of that, and I thank you for your testimony; but it seems to me that public opinion will take a different view. Considering the case quite objectively, I feel that to invite a professor twice over to give a course, and then, without even seeing him, to intimate his summary dismissal, is a cruel insult..."
Keen resentment possessed the students, for no one could believe that the course was merely postponed. No doubt they remembered those other scholars, from every quarter of the globe and of every shade of opinion, who, in 1871, had united to protest against the deportation of Elisée Reclus, when he was condemned for participation in the Commune. Those men knew that Science is superior to political contingencies! And perhaps these young people thought with pride that it was in favour of Elisée Reclus that there had occured, for the first time, one of these joint interventions of the general conscience, which appear as fore-runners of that pure international relationship whereof this great idealist dreamed.
The students' societies presented addresses of dignified protest to the Council. The agitation became violent. The cause of "outraged merit" won support from the outside public, which was at that time easily aroused. On January 12th, a group of politicians, students and scholars, among whom were some professors of the University itself, addressed a stirring appeal to the students encouraging them to resist. When called upon by the Council to withdraw their addresses, the students refused. A number of them were expelled. Their Rector, Hector Denis, who took their side, resigned. The University had to close its doors. It reopened them some weeks later, on one of those amnesties such as end all wars, because men are weary, and vital necessities assert themselves; but with no real agreement.
The most striking features of this conflict, as Hector Denis said in reply to a sympathetic address from the students, were the esteem shown for thought, for the freedom of science and for the independence of the scholar... and the noteworthy growth of solidarity, which then sprang up and throve in the hearts of many.
By contrast, the Université Libre appeared more than ever obsolete from the viewpoint of pure science and free thought. And so a number of men deemed that the time had come to found a "New University" in which they might cherish the sacred fire, and the spirit of progressive civilization, which had been banished from the other.
This great and radical measure was carried at a meeting convoked by the Protestation Committee which had taken up the students' cause.
The first thing to do was to secure the coöperation of the man who, most involuntarily, had been the cause of the movement. Elisée Reclus accepted with the simplicity which he always showed in doing his duty. Leaving his friends, a more attractive intellectual centre, and a milder climate, he came at once and settled in Brussels for the rest of his life.
While the New University was being organized, hospitality was ofered to the public, who were eager to hear the great geographer, in a huge hall. The first lesson in a course of Comparative Geography took place on March 2nd.
"I recall the opening night" says Edmond Picard, "crowds besieging the doors, rumours pervading the town, imprecations and sarcasms directed against the banishers, the calm beauty of the inaugural lecture, the serenity of the professor in his triumph. Seldom have circumstance" concurred also well to enhance the great, and retributive, signifacance of an event"
Throughout the summer the lectures went on like this. The professor's words never failed to reveal the noble humanity of his heart. Amid the numerous and heterogeneous audience--comprising students, the unruly population of the schools, old men too, bourgeois who had come out of curiosity, and journalists who had come to criticize--there arose a loyal band of young men and women, fired with enthusiasm. Every lesson filled them with good will and raised them above themselves.
I recall one summer evening when this youthful band, on their way to the high town, sat down to go on with their talk, on the steps of St. Gudule's. The great, dark gothic towers rose above them, symbol and relic of the centuries of oppression in the middle ages. The young people did not notice them. The starry sky of that summer night was not too vast a dome for their dream of brotherly love.
In time the New University was organized. Its creation is a striking example of the power of faith in a just cause. The group of organizers collected 50,000 francs, which was deemed an adequate sum for such a venture! Many professors offered their collaboration. Among them were teachers in state colleges, whose boldness might have been fatal to them; leading lights of medicine and law; the cream of authors and artists; a whole crew of brave men, who recked nothing of the material disadvantages of their action. Before autumn, the New University was born.
As soon as its firm intention to live and to last was apparent, the sarcastic comments of the conservatives broke out; and, what was more serious, the new institution had to contend against the opposition of offficial circles.
It had organized the four Faculties--Philosophy and Literature--Law--Science--Medicine--which, according to Belgian law, constitute a university capable of issuing diplomas, under the surveillance of a government commission. On an empty pretext, that commission refused to recognize the diplomas of the New University. This was a palpable block It entailed the closing of the Faculties of Science and medicine, which were too onerous, and which were replaced a Faculty of Social Science, an Institute of Geography, and the Institute of Advanced Studies.
A well known politician, belonging to a hostile party, struck with admiration by this display of courage, declared that he had never believed his countrymen capable of s devotion. "When men are prompted by such feelings" he said, "they are bound to succeed; for such was the origin all the great reforms which have prevailed."
The New University, founded thus in a moment of indignation and enthusiasm, a butt for the spite of partisans of the reactionary press, but supported in the long run some enlightened public committees, carried on its work uninterruptedly until the fatal month of August, 1914. A large proportion of its students were young men and women from foreign countries in which its teaching was valued its diplomas were recognized. Its professors were unpaid, many of them even helped it out of their own pockets- they maintained the enthusiasm of the early days, doubt because of the very difficulty and disinterestedness of the mission.
At the opening ceremony in October 1895, Elisée Reclus was the principal speaker, and he thus defined the ideal the New University:--
"I shall be asked what right I have to speak of common aims and common methods while, in this university we, as individuals, entertain such diverse ideas, particularly with regard to sociology. Is not the perfect harmony which we desiterate a mere illusion? Is not the unity which we deem indispensible, a chimera? No! That harmony and that unity really exist; for, however some of us may differ in temperament, in the interpretation of history, in aspiration for the coming age, we are all perfectly unanimous in according the fullest possible recognition to freedom of thought. We proclaim it with all the energy of our being, and each one of us finds it the warrant of his teaching. The vindicadon of free thought was the very origin of our existence as a teaching body. It will ever remain the condidon of our life and prosperity. A flame, perhaps not dazzling, but free, keen and quick, burns on the altar that we have set up with our hands. We tend with jealous care that flame in which the soul of our community sheds its light.
Thus we may boldly assert our right to speak of a common purpose. Science, as we conceive it, and as we seek to interpret it, possesses that supreme bond of union which is found in a boundless respect for human thought. It will also have the bond which arises from community of method, the firm resolves to draw no conclusion that is not derived from observation and experiment, and to set aside scrupulously all preconceived ideas of merely tradidonal or mystic origin. Finally, we count on a third bond, that which our pupils and auditors wilI knit by their love of truth, and by the lofty spirit of sincere, disinterested study. It is for them to raise us to the heights, and to sustain us there, by the constant claims which they may justly make on our zeal; for the teaching we owe them must be, if not always new, at least perpetually refreshed by strenuous research and deep reflection. Since we undertake the great and formidable task of helping to form men, the students who come to hear us may well insist on our unanimous and complete devotion to the cause we stand for. Like Emerson, they may justly tell us that the first quality required of a man who dedicates his life to scientific truth, is heroism."
The harmony Redus spoke of was always displayed at the the meetings at which the professors formulated their programmes and their methods. A committee had been elected by common consent, and it was also by unanimous agreement that William de Greef was appointed Rector, a post "not implying any authority, but imposing on the man who held it stricter obligations, and more continuous attention, to the young scientific organ as a whole."
For twenty years, William de Greef discharged the duties of a Rector with incessant zeal and unfailing ability. He was worshipped by the students for his fatherly kindness, and by his colleagues for his courage in trying circumstances, for his self abnegation, for his scientific merit, and his utter modesty. This just man suffered cruelly from the war, and suffered in every possible way. The war closed the New University, and peace has not re-opened it. For good or evil, conditions are no longer the same. Only the Institute of Advanced Studies, still flourishing, recalls the crisis of 1894, and keeps alive the spirit of its founders, the de Greefs, the Picards, the Reclus.
On October 27th, the New University opened its doors in rue des Minimes, and Elisée Reclus resumed his course of geography. His celebrity as a scholar, and the conflict that had taken place in connection with him, had stirred a curiosity which was, of course, transient. But those who followed his lectures at the Institute of Advanced Studies, and still more, those who attended the Geographical Institute, were truly his disciples, and many of them, after the lapse of 30 years, still feel as vividly as ever the impression produced by his personality and his speech. Above all, none who were present at the first, the finest meetings, will ever forget them. Elisée Reclus came in. He did not utter the usual "Ladies and Gentlemen"; his voice was tremulous with feeling; when he said "Friends", the young people in his audince were conquered.
He was not a practiced orator. At one of the earliest meetngs of the professors, the opinion prevailed that lectures ought not to be read. Elisée who had hitherto kept silent, with the modesty which often goes with greatness, said: "Gentlemen, I have been in the habit of reading my lectures; I shall have need of indulgence." Those present were troubled because they had not thought of that, and proposed to make an exception in favour of the institute of Advanced Studies; but Elisée never read another lecture.
His improvised discourses were yet more vivid than the others had been. When he hesitated a moment in quest of the fittest, most expressive word, the listener seemed, even in that instant of silence, to see further into his thoughts. It seemed as if the glance of his dear blue eyes shed a portion of his genius and his ardour over his audience. His face was that of an apostle, or a prophet, with its halo of fine white hair. And when he was moved to indignation, his look had a wild nobility. His eyes were magnetic, and revealed a world of human love.
The pathetic beauty of his face, and the extraordinary brightness of his eyes were so striking that many persons have spoken of them in nearly the same terms.
"His blue eyes shining like stars" says Edmond Picard . . . and again, "his grey hair and beard were like an aureole. . . He always ends a lecture with some sweeping flight of intellect, whereby he discovers and reveals the cosmic bearings of his particular subject.
" He is one of those whom we cannot hear without feeling that we have been made better."
"He was small and ethereal" writes one pupil, "and his power showed only in his blue eyes, which glowed beneath his white hair like the gentian beside the Alpine snow, and in which the love of mankind flashed, now in tenderness, now in revolt."
Geography was his subject, but that word seems poor to those who do not know what his description of the earth comprised. "I seek to make Nature re-enact her life before me" says he, at the beginning of his Universal Geography. We had the unique privilege of watching his mighty thoughts take form, for our sake.
Needless to say, his course was never made a pretext for Anarchist propaganda--unless that name be applied to outbursts of kindly sentiment, love, friendship, devotion, mutual help, solidarity, which overfiow the humane heart-or the execration of selfishness, wickedness, or despotism, these blemishes which disfigure humanity will vanish
"if man learns to study and analyse himself, and to shake off the thousand trammels in which time, custom, prejudice, and survivals of the past, enmesh, smother and crush him. Man must be free, that he may do all the good of which he is capable to his free fellow men, so that all may live in love and harmony on this wonderful earth."
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Elie Reclus at once joined his brother in Brussels. From the beginning, he gave the New University the advantage of his collaboration and the benefit of his ardent enthusiasm. This came as a perfectly natural development of his life which, amid the most chequered circumstances, had always been remarkable for inward harmony and unity. For more than nine years, till the end of his admirable life, his lectures on the History of Religion went on without a break in the Institute of Advanced Studies. On the occasion of his death, in 1904, William de Greef said:--
"His outstanding intelligence was well balanced by his kindness, which was not only boundless but, as it were, organic. His optimism surmounted all obstacles, his gentle irony triumphed over every social pettiness. I have never known any one with so deep a sense of the continuity in the development of mankind. His own life was rooted in the life of the race. Hence his modesty, he considered his work as something impersonal; others would have done it if he had not; and others would carry on his task. What he had sown would surely ripen and be reaped; there would follow other seed-times and richer harvests.
"All his philosophy made for Peace--the fusion of beliefs and interests. The errors of mankind are the product of natural causes. Every belief meets a certain requirement and marks a stage in evolution, in our adaptation to our environment, and there is constant progress. Intelligence is of the same nature everywhere, but its developments are successive.
"Every idea and sentiment belongs to its own period. The science of the future will classify these fossils.
"Every man in his day and generation takes part in this work and then disappears. The dust which we have stirred retains our impress just as long as a river retains the reflection of its banks. Our whole life seems to be swallowed up in oblivion; yet we survive ourselves in what subsists of the work we have done, for the most part unconsciously, in conserving and transforming our environment.
"Such is the philosophic testament of that noble life, with its calm and serene euthanasia. No one had a stronger sense than Elie Reclus of the perpetuity of the individuo-social being; hence his serenity, which was not Olympian like Goethe's, but gentle and human. He saw his own existence linked with all preceding generations, even to the most primitive; and so, of course, he knew that it would be linked in the same way to all future generations. To sum up, the harmonious beauty of his life resulted from his personal conformity with the evolution of the whole race, towards the reconciliation and fusion of all social inequalities and divergences.
It was fine to see these two old men, full of mutual affection and respect, each in turn, with the assiduity of a neophyte, occupying the Chair in that hospitable Hall of Advanced Studies. They were well matched in science, kindness, intelligence, the sense of justice, and the worthiness of their lives--but very different in their turn of mind.
Elisée spoke, as he wrote, with perfect purity and classic elegance.
Elie, "Old Elie", as we called him among ourselves with affectionate familiarity, had the more original turn of mind. He possessed a caustic quality which was, however, so tempered by good nature that it gave his hearers nothing but pleasure. He picked his words with the precision of a philologist He employed unexpected terms, and archaic turns, with the most racy effect. His eyes sparkled with quizzical kindness. It was an incomparable pleasure to see and hear him.
Elisée would leave us under the spell of his thunderous prophesies. Next day, Elie would turn our attention to the humble beginnings of our changeful humanity. For two straws he would have said to us: "My brother tells you whither we are going. . . if the fates consent. For my part, I shall tell you where we come from. You will see the distance we have traveled. On the whole, it is encouraging."
Then he would give us the most detailed descriptions and the subtlest explanations of the life of our ancestors. His immense learning supplied him with a thousand fairy tales for grown-up children. Legends of gods and devils, of sorcerers and priests, of downs and heroes. He would constantly group things in the most unexpected way, so that his hearers, with unflagging curiosity, kept thinking: "Oh, that's what he was driving at . . . that hard logic of facts." For, in the long run, humanity emerged from this mass of errors, like metal from dross. How foolish, how stupid, how bad, how cunning we used to be! Now, of course, we are better . . . and yet, is it so certain that we are?
Yes, he thought so. Towards the end, he assured a young friend, in the persuasive tones that voice a deep faith: "The time will come when soldiers, judges and priests will be no longer needed." The priest vanishes because "the religious idea has no place amid modem conceptions; it belongs to a superseded state of things; and that is an additional reason for treating this factor of ancient societies with historical impartiality."
The general tendency of Elie Reclus' course was set forth in the summary of his first lecture.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF MYTHS
The religions claim that they are not under the jurisdiction of reason. If this claim were well founded, our only course would be to leave them alone and not bother about them. But the religions protest: You must study us; if we have mysteries, they are only meant to whet your curiosity. You have a fair field.
How modest we should be in approaching this study! We are mere individuals, taking upon ourselves to judge collective beliefs. How hard it is to be free from prepossessions. Let us at least aim at fair play.
The best guarantee of our impartiality will be our method, the method of evolution. The knowledge that every belief is destined to perish begets indulgence. The science brings peace to our understanding.
Religious criticism dates from the Encyclopedia. At first it was petty. The requisites for sound criticism were lacking. But, with the translation of the Zendavests, criticism entered new paths. The science of Comparative Religion was founded.
The synopsis of the lectures which, according to the rule of the Institute of Advanced Studies, was distributed among the auditors in advance, roused so much interest that the lectures themselves were eagerly looked forward to. Their form was original, and often touched with humour, which neither the teacher's age nor his incessant labour could abate. The following is a specimen taken at random.
Lecture delivered November 23rd, 1898.
I The sorcerer was the first "Intellectual".
II The common people do not like Intellectuals, but view them with suspicion.
III The common people dislike Intellectuals because they are afraid of them.
IV On the other hand, the common people wanted to be afraid of sorcerors and demons. Fear is not destitute of attraction. Weak and disordered minds find pleasure in it.
He portrayed devils and monsters with no less gusto than the sculptors of the cathedrals; and he set off the horrible with a humour, so perfectly in keeping with the middle ages, that we often laughed outright. He himself only smiled as if thinking: "That is nothing to what I could tell you." His fancy was boundless, and so was his love of etymology. After the lapse of twenty years, old classmates still recall his lecture on the Infernal Hunt. The King of the Nether World leads the band: Hellkönig! Dressed in a diamond-patterned suit and armed with a wooden sword, he re-appears in Italian comedy as the incarnation of mischief: Harlequin! From amid the alders of a German marsh, he rides forth on misty nights, a crowned phantom, carrying off little children: Erlkönig! (Madeleine Maus.)
This familiar manner of discourse brought the professor very close to his pupils. No one ever felt hurt by his kindly banter, or wounded by his superiority. We did not feel that we had to struggle to reach his level, on the contrary, he good naturedly placed himself on ours; and we felt that we stood on the same footing--that of humanity.
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What was the extent of the influence which these two brothers exercised at that time on those who heard them? How can it be measured? It is no doubt possible to trace the development of scientific and political ideas. But moral ideas penetrate, and become part of, the living substance of the being who absorbs them. He passes them on, intact or modified, to distant generations, to whom they appear as natural laws. Now, moral ideas of the utmost purity, developed even beyond the limits of what is attainable to the mass of mankind in our day, were what these almost perfect men instilled . . . and put in practice.
Such is the irony of circumstances, that the suppression of Elisée Reclus' course in the Université Libre had one happy consequence. His first lectures were attended by large audiences in which the bourgeois element predominated; and thus he found listeners whom otherwise his voice would not have reached. Amid these unpromising hearers, more than one was struck by the radiant vision, often invoked by the teacher, of a world re-moulded by brotherly love. They were astonished to find an anarchist so good and so just. These commonplace men returned to their daily round; but some grain of the teaching sank into them, germinated and, sometimes, bore fruit. Who can tell how far and wide the good seed may be scattered? . . .
Of course, all were not affected alike; some minds reject everything but hard fact. Yet the admiration for the great scholar and his geographical teaching was unanimous. For his idealism was strictly subordinated to scientific truth; and yet it opened up fresh lines of thought, more or less distinctly, in the minds of all.
Although Eliseé never engaged in propaganda, there were anarchists at that time among the students of the Institute of Advanced Studies, especially the younger students; and there were even some of bourgeois origin. Their convictions did not always lead to the sacrifice of a life of ease, but were often merely verbal, literary, and unstable. And yet some of the students who got to know Reclus in private were struck, and fortified, by his example, and persisted in the path despite all obstacles, modeling their lives upon his, as far as their powers permitted. They still keep, at a ripe age, the faith of their youth, and cherish a glowing memory of their master.
Others, mystic souls, whose knowledge of themselves was first revealed to them by Reclus' religion of humanity, were afterwards induced--by the inward need of a formulated religion, the need of pious self-surrender, the need of some sure heavenly compensation for sufferings here below--to turn away from "the hero of their twentieth year" but with no loss of respect or affection.
Yet others, taking their place in the social system, practice the virtues for which it affords scope, without failing to recognize its defects.
And of these various men, all without exception acknowledge their debt to Reclus for awaking in them the sense of their duty as men, which maintains them among the truest and best.
Among the faithful of these memorable evenings, many, not attracted by anarchist doctrine, not even giving it a thought, have been conquered and for ever subjugated by that eloquence which rang with love or with revolt. Lives, happy or unfortunate, easy or burdened with heavy duties, common-place or enriched with science, poetry and art, have received an indelible impression; and such lives are the sphere of an influence, subtle, deep immeasurable. Prejudices, inherited through many generations, have collapsed in a single night. An unsuspected world has been revealed.
Indeed, this geographic science is an unrivalled agent for promoting brotherhood among individuals and among peoples, a school of respect for all living men!
They listened with wonder to the lesson which showed them the earth as "rhythm and beauty expressed in a harmonious whole." And they eagerly expected the appeal to justice and mutual kindness which was the usual conclusion. They dreamed of devotion and service. Most of them have been too weak to realize their dream completely; but I do not believe that a single one has so utterly forgotten that early enthusiasm, as to become basely grasping, self-indulgent, or despotic.
The charm of his personality attracted artists, even though their interests did not lie in the same direction. Some of them have recorded recollections which give intimate glimpses of the great man.
"I was living at Knocke when Eliseé was called to Brussels; so I did not meet him there; but in the spring of that year (1894) he was on the Belgian coast and, knowing that Verhaeren was staying with me, he came to visit him. I do not think Verhaeren had met him before; but when we saw him coming, as we sat in front of the house, we recognized him at once. He advanced, with his hands in the pockets of his every-day clothes, bare headed, with his hair and his loose tie floating in the breeze; and he looked, as he would have had everybody look, the type of a "free man". His salutation was simple and cordial with a suggestion of youthful ardour; but his bearing had great nobility. Verhaeren and he greeted each other with the generous warmth of kindred spirits. . . I see him yet, on the beach, close to the waterside, making islands, capes and archipelagoes in the sand with his stick, to amuse some child, and saying: 'This is the ideal place to teach geography. His material frame was so slight that he seemed to pass by like a spirit. (He always maintained that men eat too much)
MADAM THEO VAN RYSSELBERGHE.
Another, a disciple who afterwards parted company with him, describes him thus:
"Courteous, refined, chivalrous . . . a magnetic personality; his countenance was inspired; for him, to give was a necessity; his disinterestedness and humility were most winning. In another age, Reclus would have been considered a saint, he had all the characteristics.
The word "saint" occurs frequently.
"One of the most truly religious spirits of this age, he was of the race from which spring saints and martyrs... He practiced all the virtues, simply and naturally... He saw the future as a dawn rising over a world of men, good, simple, and brotherly-made in his own image." .
He was too magnanimous to have a ready understanding of men's meanness; but, to many, the atmosphere in which saints move is unbreathable; and this was sadly brought home to him.
When he showed scrupulous politeness to people in dire distress, or outcast from "respectable" society, there were some who thought he was setting himself up as a model; but he was merely-following the guidance of his nature. . . Again, his absolute helplessness in money matters, and his simple credulity, made him the easy prey of schemers. Toward the end of his life, he endured much material trouble and deep mental grief through the baseness of men.
The illness which, for ten years, he had mastered with resolute energy, now gave him no respite. With sad hearts, his pupils witnessed the silent-hopeless-struggle. The sullen climate of Belgium may have increased his sufferings, but he never complained of it. He always had the same welcome for his faithful friends, and showed his gratitude for their care. Only, when his brother Elie died, he could not hide from everyone the pain he felt at the loss of his lifelong companion. He died eighteen months after him, in the spring of 1905, and in the grave their dust is mingled.
In this country which has been so cruelly stricken by racial rivalries, those who knew and loved these brothers cherish their memory, and sometimes say: "We must never despair, since such men can exist".