Kropotkin in Brighton
By Pryns Hopkins
It was in August, 1914, that I met Peter Kropotkin. He was then living in Brighton, and I went down to see him from London, bearing a letter of introduction from Emma Goldman.
I always think of Emma as my socio-intellectual mother. I mean that when I had taken a college degree and drifted, with mind still somnolent as far as any knowledge of the contemporary world of struggling human beings was concerned, into New York City, and into a hall where Emma was lecturing- I was rudely awakened. In the few weeks which followed I heard everything challenged which I'd always taken for granted. In addition I learned that there existed a vast literature my university had seemingly never heard of, although many of its great names were familiar to peasant immigrants.
This had happened to me at a very critical moment. For I suddenly came down with a long illness; and during the months I lay in bed recuperating at the sanitarium whither I had been sent, I could read voraciously. Recalling the authors Emma was always dwelling on, I went through the complete works of Ibsen and then so much as I could get of the literature of Russia- chiefly Tolstoy and Kropotkin.
What a treat I found in his Introduction to Russian Literature! And with what fascination I read the autobiography of this truly great hero, who, like a modern Gautama, had renounced his princely position and estates to cast his lot with the common people, but whose road to salvation had been a more militant one leading through imprisonments, escapes across wintery Siberia, and exile.
When now, in August 1914, my train brought me to Brighton, I quickly found the famous anarchist's house. Mrs. Kropotkin opened the door-and if I recall rightly after so many years, she was small of figure but full of the warmth of welcome.
Prince Kropotkin, who received me in a big armchair in the living room (for his health was not good) was truly the original by who all the stereotyped cartoons of anarchists have been inspired. An enormous mass of whiskers bristled from his face in every direction. Within such a mane, one might have looked for a leonine type of countenance- but his was far too benevolent to be called that. He more truly radiated benevolence than anyone I had ever seen.
While Mrs. Kropotkin provided us with cake and sweet Russian tea, we launched into a long and most interesting discussion. I recall that there were three points on which we never did come to a truly satisfactory "meeting of the minds" as lawyers would call it. I was at that time a pacifist, and Kropotkin's support of the war against Germany I could reconcile neither with his belief in no-government nor my own (then) belief that even defensive war brought on greater evils than any it protected from. (I was incredulous of the depths of German machinations.) The third point on which we could not meet was the boundless optimism expressed in his Farms, Factories, and Workshops as to the unlimited fruitfulness he thought could be wrung by science and labor out of a tiny acreage of soil, so that allover population scares would be rendered nonsense. Failure to agree on these matters, however, in no way clouded the friendly intercourse of that delightful afternoon.
As I was leaving, a few neighbors dropped in and I caught some hint of that veneration with which everyone regarded this mighty rebel, so warmly human.