Reminisces of Old Times
By Thomas Eyges
A Visit With Peter Kropotkin 45 Years Ago
Among Anarchist proponents, such as Proudhon, Reclus, Jean Grave, Malatesta and others, Peter Kropotkin was the outstanding authority- a great scientist and a great humanitarian- he propounded his ideas in a most popular, interesting and learned way.
In my younger days, besides Kropotkin I also admired greatly Peretz and Ibsen; in youthful aspirations I always had a desire to meet these great men personally. J. Peretz and Henrik Ibsen were out of my reach, but the day came, which destiny prepared to me, to meet Peter Kropotkin in person.
It was in or about 1898. I was secretary of the "Worker's Friend" Group. The funds for the publication of the "Worker's Friend" were exhausted; the printer refused to release the forms with the type until he was paid; we were in a great predicament; the group, at a special meeting, finally decided to turn to Kropotkin for assistance in our plight, to invite him to London for a lecture, thereby to raise the necessary funds.
At the time I was the only one in the group that could spare the time for the mission to visit Kropotkin and explain the situation. I accepted without hesitation the errand offered to me.
One day during that week, conscious that I was to meet such a great personality, I dressed up in my best; silk hat, Prince Albert gloves and a walking stick. I took the train at Euston station for Bromley, Kent, where Kropotkin resided.
In the train, on the way to Bromley, I was in deep thought, experiencing a peculiar feeling. I was on a mission to visit a great, learned man, a prince, born in the Russian royal family, raised in luxury and splendor, fostered on the lap of the Czar of all Russians, later obtaining the highest mental training and education possible in those days, having the opportunity to rise to potential degree of social status, and yet, he gave up all that, turned to the extreme left, to consecrate his life for humanity's cause, especially for the peasant and laboring class. What strange twists and turns destiny takes in the life of an individual and often so also in society! My train was rapidly approaching the destination. Arriving in Bromley and, by the directions of the station master, I walked from the railroad station, through the beautiful country to the house of Kropotkin.
At the house entrance I was met by Sophia Kropotkin. She informed me that her husband was "taking a nap"; asking me if I cared to wait; unless it was very important she would wake him. I agreed to wait and was invited into the living room of a small cottage, wherein the Prince lived who had given up the Czar's palace "with all its pomp, which he hated so." As he states in his "Autobiography of a Revolutionist," in preference to a modest life where he can peacefully write his great scientific works and educate the world.
While waiting, I observed the scant but neatly furnished room. Opposite from where I sat was a tall glass case containing a variety of specimens of flies, butterflies and other larger insects, all held on pins stick in the back of the case. On the shelves in the same case there was a large assortment of small mineral stones in various sizes and colors; on the bottom shelves were a small beehive, an assortment of small pieces of metals and a piece of tree with a root.
Within a short time the old gentleman came in the room with an outstretched hand toward me, introducing himself with a broad smile. I introduced myself in turn.
"Have you been waiting here long?" he asked in English, and, smiling good naturedly, looked squarely at his visitor.
"No, not very long," I replied, somewhat confused, meeting his eyes.
"You speak Russian, don't you?"
"I do," I answered.
"Well, this is (prekrasne) very nice; now we will have a chat in the language I like most." He said these words in a beautiful Russian accent and to me at that time every word sounded like good music. At that instant Kropotkin's wife came in and, turning quickly to her, he said:
"I have the pleasure of introducing a comrade from London, and he speaks Russian too."
Smiling, she shook hands with me.
And now the Prince continued: "We will have tea, won't we Sophia, eh?