The Anarchists : Chapter 2 : The Eleventh Hour
(1864 - 1933)
John Henry Mackay (6 February 1864 Greenock, Scotland – 16 May 1933 Stahnsdorf, (Germany)) was an egoist anarchist, thinker and writer. Born in Scotland and raised in Germany, Mackay was the author of Die Anarchisten (The Anarchists, 1891) and Der Freiheitsucher (The Searcher for Freedom, 1921). Mackay was published in the United States in his friend Benjamin Tucker's magazine, Liberty. (From : Wikipedia.org.)
On Friday evening of the following week Carrard Auban was riding down the endlessly long City Road in an omnibus. He sat beside the driver, — a gentleman in a silk hat and with a faultless exterior, — and watched impatiently the gradual lessening of the distance which separated him from his destination. He was excited and out of sorts. As the omnibus stopped at Finsbury Square, he quickly alighted, hurried down the pavement as far as the next cross-street after he had satisfied himself about the direction, and found himself a few minutes later on the steps of South Place Institute.
Even from a distance an unusually large concourse of people was noticeable. At short intervals policemen were standing round. The doors of the dark, church-like building were wide open; as Auban slowly pushed his way in with the stream, he exchanged hasty words of greeting with some acquaintances who were stationed there to sell the papers of their society or their party. The responses frequently told of surprise or pleasure at seeing him.
He took what came in his way of the papers offered for sale: “Commonweal,” the interesting organ of the Socialist League; “Justice,” the party organ of the Social Democratic Federation; and a few copies of the new German paper, “Londoner Freie Presse,” the enterprise of a number of German Socialists of the various schools, which was to form a common ground for their views, and to serve the propaganda among the German-speaking portion of the London population. Auban never returned from these meetings without having filled his breast-pocket with papers and pamphlets.
At the inner entrance the resolution of the evening was being distributed; large, clearly printed quarto sheets.
The hall was of about equal width and depth; a broad gallery, which was already nearly filled, extended along the walls. At an elevation of several feet, a platform rose in front, on which were placed a number of chairs for the speakers. It was still unoccupied. The hall gave the impression of being used for religious purposes. The shape of the seats also indicated this.
This evening, however, nothing was to be noticed of the indifferent, mechanically quiet routine of a religious meeting. The seats were occupied by an excited, strongly moved multitude loudly exchanging their opinions. Auban rapidly surveyed it. He saw many familiar faces. At the corner of the hall, near the platform, a number of the speakers of the evening had gathered. Auban cut through the rows of benches that were incessantly being filled, and approached the group. With some he exchanged a quiet pressure of the hand; to others he nodded.
“Well, you will of course speak, too, Mr. Auban?” he was asked.
He shook his head, deprecatingly.
“I do not like to speak English, do not like to speak at all. That’s past. And what should I say? What one would like to say he is not allowed to say. It is a mixed meeting?” he then asked more softly of a man standing near him, the well-known agitator of a German revolutionary club.
“Yes, radicals, free-thinkers, liberals — all sorts of people. You will see, most of the speakers will disavow all sympathy with Anarchism.”
“Have you not seen Trupp?”
“No; he surely will not come. I have never yet met him at one of these meetings.”
Auban looked round. The hall was already crowded to suffocation; the aisles between the seats were filled; a number of workingmen surrounded the large group photograph of the Chicago condemned, which, in a broad gilt frame, was suspended beneath the speaker’s table. On the table adjoining, several newspaper reporters were putting their writing pads in order.
At the entrances the crowd became more and more excited. The doors were wide open. From the pushing and jostling it could be seen that large masses were still demanding admission. Some succeeded in forcing their way to the front, where there still was room on the seats if people crowded closer together. When Auban saw this, he also quickly secured a seat for himself, for his lame leg did not permit him to remain standing for hours.
He planted his cane firmly and crossed his legs. So he remained sitting the entire evening. He could overlook the whole hall, as he sat on one of the side seats: the platform lay right before him.
He took the resolution from his pocket and read it through carefully and slowly, as well as the list of speakers: “several of the most prominent Radicals and Socialists.” He knew all the names and the men to whom they belonged, although he had scarcely met any of them during the past year.
“The right of free speech,” was on the program. “Seven men sentenced to death for holding a public meeting.” The resolution read: “ — that the English workingmen in this meeting earnestly wish to call the attention of their fellow-workingmen in America to the great danger to public liberty which will arise if they permit the punishment of citizens for attempting to resist the suppression of the right of public assembly and free speech, since a right for the exercise of which people may be punished, thereby clearly becomes no right, but a wrong.
“That the fate of the seven men who are under sentence of death for holding a public meeting in Chicago, at which several policemen were killed in an attempt to forcibly disperse the people and suppress the speakers, is of the greatest importance to us as English workingmen, since their case is to-day the case of our comrades in Ireland, and perhaps tomorrow our own, if the workingmen on both sides of the Atlantic shall not unanimously declare that all who interfere with the right of public assembly and free speech do so illegally and at their own peril. We cannot admit that the political opinions of the seven condemned men have anything whatever to do with the principles cited, and we protest against their sentence, which, if it is executed, will make a capital crime of meetings held by workingmen in the United States of America, since it is always in the power of the authorities to incite a public gathering to resistance by threatening their lives. We expect of our American comrades, however greatly their political opinions may differ, that they will demand the unconditional release of the seven men in whose persons the liberties of all workingmen are now threatened...”
When Auban had finished, he saw beside him an old man with a long, white beard and friendly expression.
“Mr. Marell,” he exclaimed, visibly pleased, “are you back again? What a surprise!”
They shook hands heartily.
“I did not mean to disturb you — you were reading.”
They spoke English together.
“How long since you returned?”
“And were you in Chicago?”
“Yes, fourteen days; then in New York.”
“I had not expected you —”
“I could not bear it any longer, so I came back.”
“You saw the condemned?”
Auban bent over to him and asked in a low voice: —
“There is no hope?”
The old man shook his head.
“None. The last lies with the governor of Illinois, but I don’t believe in him.”
They continued in an undertone.
“How is public sentiment?”
“Public sentiment is depressed. The Knights of Labor and the Georgeites are holding back. Altogether, many things are different from what one imagines here. Here and there the excitement is great, but the time is not yet ripe.”
“Everything will be done?”
“I don’t know. In any case, everything will be useless.”
Both were silent. Auban looked more serious than usual. But even now it was not to be discerned what kind of feeling it was which ruled him.
“How are the prisoners?”
“Very calm. Some don’t want a pardon, and will say so. But I fear the others are still hoping.”
It was past eight o’clock. The meeting began to grow impatient; the voices became louder.
Auban continued to inquire, and the old man replied in his calm, sad voice.
“You will speak, Mr. Marell?”
“No, my friend. There is another, a younger one here; he also comes from Chicago, and he will have something to say about them there.”
“Will you be at home tomorrow?”
“Yes; come. I will give you the proceedings, and the latest papers. I have brought much with me. Everything I could get. Much. If you were to read everything, you would get a good picture of our American conditions.”
“A new trial will not be granted?”
“I hope not. For it wouldn’t be of any use; the torture, which already is unendurable, would be uselessly prolonged; new, immense sums would have to be raised by the people — again fifty thousand dollars, composed of labor pennies — and to what end? — no; the hyena wants blood.”
“And the people?”
“The people doesn’t know itself what it wants. It does not yet believe in the gravity of the situation, and when the Eleventh has come, it will be too late.”
A young Englishman, who knew Mr. Marell from the Socialist League, joined in their conversation. Auban looked up. The former said seriously: —
“No; I still will not believe it. At the close of the nineteenth century, in full view of the nations, they will not murder seven men whose innocence is as clear as day; thousands upon thousands are slain, but people no longer have the courage to simply boast of power and mock all laws in a country with the institutions of the States. No; they will not do it, for the reason that it would be madness from their standpoint thus to enlighten and arouse the people. No; they will not dare! Just look; all this number of people here, and so every day in all liberal countries, here and on the other side, these meetings, these papers, this flood of pamphlets! Where is the man with a mind and a heart who does not revolt? — are the hosts to be counted that are rising on the other side? And their will would not be powerful enough to fill those hired scoundrels with terror and make them desist from carrying out their wicked designs? No; they will not dare, comrade! It would be their own ruin!”
The two whom he addressed shrugged their shoulders. What could they answer him?
In the struggle of the two classes, both of them had seen those who hold the power in their hands commit so many outrages that they had to ask themselves what could happen that might still surprise them and excite their indignation.
Auban saw how the hands of the old man, holding a gray, shabby hat, trembled, and how he was trying to conceal this slight trembling, which told of his emotion, by carelessly playing with his hat.
“They believe they will strike Anarchism in the heart if they hang a number of its champions,” he said. Auban noticed that he did not care to go on with the conversation at this time, and remained silent.
But he again pondered: “What is Anarchism?” The condemned of Chicago? Their views were partly social-democratic, partly Communistic, no two of them would have given the same answer to any question put to them involving first principles, and yet all called themselves and were called “Anarchists”; but when had Individualism ever spoken more defiantly than out of the mouth of that young Communist who had thundered at his “judges”: “I despise you, I despise your laws, your ‘order,’ your government,” and: “I stand by it: if we are threatened by cannon, we will answer with dynamite bombs.”
And further, the old man who was sitting beside him! He, too, called himself “Anarchist.” ... And what was it that he was ever anew preaching in his countless pamphlets? Love. “What is Anarchy?” he asks. And he answers: “It is a system of society in which no one disturbs the action of his neighbor; where liberty is free from law; where there is no privilege; where force does not determine human actions. The ideal is one with that proclaimed two thousand years ago by the Nazarene: the brotherhood of all mankind.” And pained, he again and again exclaims: “Revenge is the lesson preached by the pulpit, by the press, by all classes of society! No, preach love! love! love!” ...
It occurred to Auban, in recalling these words, how dangerous it was to speak in such general, such hazy, such superficial terms to those who were as yet so little prepared to discover the meaning and the import of the words. Thus did the incongruous and foreign elements more and more form themselves into a coil whose unraveling frightened away many who would else gladly have followed the individual threads...
Auban had only recently made the acquaintance of the old man. It had been at a debate in which the differences between individualistic and communistic Anarchism were discussed. Mr. Marell had been the only one who — as he himself believed — championed the former. His reasoning had interested Auban. Notwithstanding its inconsistencies, he found much in it that was in close relation to his own conclusions. So they had become, acquainted with each other and met a few times before the former returned to America, to do there, as he said, what was yet in his power to do. As he never talked about himself, Auban did not know of what nature these efforts were to be, and from what he had heard this evening he could see farther that they had been unsuccessful. But so much was clear: that this man seemed to be at the head of a very extended ramification of connections of all kinds; for he knew all the eight persons implicated in the trial, and appeared likewise to be well informed in regard to the spread of the Anarchistic teachings in America.
All his pamphlets were signed: “The Unknown.” In London, the old man was not a striking figure. He rarely spoke in public, and the tide of the revolutionary movement of London casts too many individuals on the surface to-day only to swallow them up again tomorrow, to permit of paying special attention to the transient visitor in this ceaseless coming and going.
He now made inquiry of the Englishman concerning some of those present. Auban leaned back.
“Who is that?”
He pointed to a woman in a simple, dark dress, who was sitting near them. Her well-defined features betrayed the liveliest interest in everything that was going on about her, and she spoke animatedly and laughingly with her neighbor.
“I don’t know,” replied the Englishman. But then he remembered, once having seen her in a German club, and he added: —
“I only know that she is a German, a German Socialist. Ambitious, but with a good heart. In Berlin she agitated a long time for the abolition of the medical examination of prostitutes.”
The old man, curious, continued to put questions to the one standing before him.
“And to whom is she talking now?”
The Englishman looked. It was a young man whom he also knew only slightly.
“I believe he is a poet,” he said. Both smiled.
“He has written a poem on social life.”
“Have you read it?”
“Oh, no; I don’t read German.”
“He looks neither like a poet nor like a Socialist. Does he believe he can improve the world with his poems? He will one day see how useless they are, and that people must have bread before they can think of other things. If one has nothing to eat, poetry is at an end.”
The younger man smiled at the zeal of the older, who continued, undisturbed, while Auban studied the crowd.
“It is possible to write the tenderest love poems and like a butcher to witness the bloodiest atrocities. And one will write a public hymn in honor of the ‘brave soldiers,’ the murderers, who return from the battles dripping with blood. One can sing of the ‘sufferings of the people,’ and the next hour, in the ballroom, kiss the hand of ‘her ladyship,’ who has just before boxed the ears of her servant. But what are we talking about? Tell me rather who is the gentleman yonder?”
“One of our parliamentary candidates. A scamp without character. A declaimer. If he had the power, he would be a tyrant. But as it is, he does enough mischief.”
Now both began to give their attention to the meeting. Auban was still absorbed in his thoughts. The chairs on the platform had become occupied by the representatives and delegates of the societies which had called the mass-meeting. Among them were several women. The chairman’s seat was occupied by a pale man in the dress of a High Church clergyman, about forty years old. He was greeted with applause when his election as chairman was announced. Auban knew him; he was a Christian Socialist, who had for many years been active among the poor of the East End. On account of his opinions he had been deprived of his living. The Church is the greatest enemy of character.
He now called the meeting to order. He said that it was composed of people of the most divergent views, of Radicals and Anti-Socialists as well as of Anarchists and Socialists, but who were united in the one wish to protest against the violation of the right of free speech. He was no Anarchist like the Chicago condemned; he had a strong aversion to their doctrines; but he demanded for their disciples and followers exactly the same or even greater liberty than he — the minister of a Christian church — claimed for himself in the expression of his opinions. All had an equal right to serve what they had learned, and what they held to be the truth, and therefore he demanded in the name of his God, and in the name of humanity, the release of these men.
When he had finished, a large number of telegrams, addresses of sympathy, and letters from all parts of England were read. Many of them were received with enthusiasm.
Auban knew that many of these societies had a membership of thousands; among the names he heard read were some of the greatest influence. The writers whose works everybody read — what were they all doing, all who were as surely convinced as he was of the atrocity of that sentence? They quieted their conscience with a protest. What could they have done? Their influence, their position, their power, — these might perhaps have been strong and impressive enough to make impossible the execution of that deed in the face of an excited and general indignation that had arisen. But their name and their protest, — these died away here before the few without effect. They, too, were the slaves of their time who might have been its true masters.
Auban was roused from his thoughts by a voice which he had often heard. Beside the table on the platform was standing a little woman dressed in black. Beneath the brow which was half hidden as by a wreath by her thick, short-cropped hair, shone a pair of black eyes beaming with enthusiasm. The white ruffle and the simple, almost monk-like, long, undulating garment seemed to belong to another century. A few only in the meeting seemed to know her; but whoever knew her, knew also that she was the most faithful, the most diligent, and the most impassioned champion of Communism in England. She, too, called herself an Anarchist.
She was not a captivating speaker, but her voice had that iron ring of unalterable conviction and honesty which often moves the listener more powerfully than the most brilliant eloquence.
She gave a picture of all the events that had preceded the arrest and conviction of the comrades in Chicago. Clearly — step by step — they passed before the eyes of the listeners...
She told of the rise and progress of the eight-hour movement in America; of the efforts of former years to enforce the eight-hour labor day among the government employes; of their successes... She explained how it had happened that the revolutionaries of Chicago joined the movement without deceiving themselves as to its significance and real importance; of the untiring efforts of the International Workingmen’s Association; and how those men who were now facing death had been forced to take the lead in the movement...
Then she attempted to describe the tremendous excitement which had preceded the May days of the previous year: the feverish tension in the circles of the workingmen, the rising fear in those of the exploiters... The rapid growth of the strikers up to the day, the first of May, which, looked forward to by all, was to bring about the decision...
Then she conjured before the eyes of the meeting the days of May themselves; “more than twenty-five thousand workingmen lay down their work on one and the same day; within three days their number has doubled. It is a general strike. The rage of the capitalists is comparable only to their fear. Evening after evening meetings are held in many places of the city. The government sends its policemen and orders them to fire into one of these peaceable gatherings: five workingmen are left dead on the spot...
“Who has called the murderers of those men to account? Nobody.”
She paused. One could hear her emotion in the tone of her voice when she continued: —
“The following evening the Anarchists call a meeting at the Haymarket. It is orderly; notwithstanding the occurrences of the previous days, the addresses of the speakers are so little incendiary that the mayor of Chicago — ready to disperse the meeting on the first unlawful word — notifies the police inspector that he may send his men home. But instead of doing so, he orders them again to march upon the meeting. At this moment a bomb flies from an unknown hand into the attacking ranks. The police open a murderous fire...
“Who threw the bomb? Perhaps the hand of one who in despair wished thus to defend himself against this new slaughter; perhaps — this was the prevailing opinion in the circles of the workingmen of Chicago — one of the commissioned agents of the police themselves; who does not know the means to which our enemies resort in order to destroy us? If this was the case, he did his business even better than had been expected.
“Who threw the bomb? We know it as little as those eight men know it, who, in the tremendous consternation which spread over Chicago from this hour, were seized at hazard, as they bore the best-known names of the movement, although several of them had not even been present at the meeting. But what of that? The court was as little deterred from arresting them as later on from finding them guilty of secret conspiracy, notwithstanding some of them had never before seen each other.
“Why were they convicted?” she closed. “Not because they have committed a crime — no; because they were the champions of the poor and the oppressed! Not because they are murderers — no; because they dared to open the eyes of the slaves to the causes of their slavery. These men whose spotless character could not be soiled even by the most venomous attacks of the ‘organs of public opinion,’ will be hanged because they followed their convictions unselfishly, nobly, and faithfully in an age when only he goes unharmed who as a liar keeps the company of liars!”
She stopped. All had listened attentively. Many applauded.
Auban followed her with his penetrating eyes as she descended the steps of the platform into the hall and, on finding all the seats occupied, carelessly seated herself on one of the steps. It seemed as if he wished to look through the hand which she was holding before her eyes as if in bodily pain, into her very soul, to find there also the confirmation of his deepest conviction, which is the last to be acquired, — the selfishness of all being. And even here he did not for a moment hesitate to confess that this woman must be happier in this life of toil, sacrifice, and privation, than she would have been had she continued in that other in which she had grown up, in wealth and ease, and which she had left — as she and all others believed — to serve “the cause of humanity,” while in reality, even if entirely unconsciously, she followed the call of her own happiness.
The noise and talking in the hall which had lasted several minutes subsided, and Auban again turned his thoughts and his attention upon the platform, where the chairman announced the name of the next speaker.
“Look,” said Mr. Marell to Auban. “That young man comes from Chicago. He will tell you something about things there. He has just come from Liverpool.”
Auban listened attentively: the American told of some of the details of the trial which were not so well known, but which gave a better idea of the nature of the proceedings against the indicted men than anything else. He described the impaneling of the jury by quoting the words of the bailiff: “I have this case in hand, and I know what I am to do. These men are bound to be hanged. I summon such men as the defendants must challenge — until they come to those whom they must accept.” ... He described the persons of the State’s witnesses, the lying scoundrel who was bribed by the police to say anything that was required of him ... the two other witnesses for the prosecution who had been given the alternative, either to hang with the rest or to go free and tell the “truth.” “Will such people not say anything that may be required of them if they see before them death or liberty?” exclaimed the speaker, and loud applause from all parts of the hall greeted his words. Then when he quoted the words of that brutal and notorious police captain: “If I could only get a thousand of these Socialists and Anarchists together, without their damned women and children, I would make short work of them”; and when he spoke of that corrupt “paid and packed jury” whom the money lords of Chicago had offered a reward of a hundred thousand dollars for their “services” through the mouth of one of their organs, a mighty storm of indignation and contempt broke forth. Cries rose from the audience, threats were heard; and the excitement in the ranks of the audience was still great, when the young American had already stepped down and given place to a little man, in a long coat, with a long, heavy beard, hair growing already thin, and of unmistakable Slav type; and the cries of indignation and wrath suddenly changed into jubilant exclamations of recognition and veneration, of enthusiasm and affection.
Evidently there were not many among these thousands that did not know this man, who was given a warmer reception than any one of the English leaders; that had not already heard of his remarkable life and fate, of his miraculous escape from the forts of Petersburg which was to land him in France, there again to be imprisoned, and to finally offer him a last retreat here in England, — heard of him those contradictory and conflicting rumors which of themselves shed a shimmer of the strange and the exceptional over one of high rank; that did not know what this man had done and was still doing for “the cause.” It was his writings, scattered throughout the revolutionary organs of “Anarchistic Communism” of all nationalities, which had for many years formed the inexhaustible and often sole source of the Communistic Anarchists. Everybody knew them; everybody read and re-read them. His personal power, which he had once devoted to the secret movement in Russia, now belonged to the International; and certainly the latter had gained as much in him as the former had lost. This power could never be replaced; and because everybody knew this, everybody was grateful to him who saw him.
He was a Communist. The paper which appeared in Paris, and which, after his stay there became impossible, he managed from London, called itself “Communistic-Anarchistic.” In splendid essays, which appeared in one of the foremost English magazines, he had attempted to lay down the “scientific foundations” of his ideal, which he believed was rightly called Anarchy. But even these labors, which gave a general idea of the extent of the information of the author in all matters of Socialism and of his enormous reading, did not enable Auban to picture to himself the possibility of the realization of these theories. And he saw also the delusive faith in this new and yet so old religion yielding nothing except a new evil harvest of despotism, confusion, and most intense misery...
In the meantime he who had roused these thoughts was waiting in nervous excitement — how many, many times had he thus been standing by the shore of the surging sea of humanity! — for the burst of applause that rose to him to subside. Then he began in that hard, clear English of the Russian who speaks the languages of the countries in which he lives. At first it seemed as if one could not understand him; three minutes later it was impossible to lose a single word of his animated and effective address. “What is the meaning of the events in Chicago?” he asked. And he answered: “Revenge upon prisoners who have been taken in the great conflict between the two great classes. We protest against it as against a cruelty and an injustice. It is the fault of our enemies,” he exclaimed, “if such crimes make the conflict ever more terrible, ever more bitter, ever more irreconcilable. This is not an affair that concerns only the American people; the wrong done against the workingmen of that country is equally a wrong against us. The labor movement is by its whole nature international; and it is the duty of the workingmen of every country to call upon their fellow-workingmen in other countries and to uphold them in their resistance to those crimes which are committed against all alike!”
He did not speak long; but his speech excited both himself and his listeners. The unmistakable earnestness of his words, his flashing eye, his passionate vehemence, awakened in the indifferent listener a presentiment of the significance of a cause which he did not understand, and strengthened in its followers the belief in its justice and its grandeur. He left the platform almost before he finished speaking, as if he wished to avoid the applause which was newly bursting forth, and the next moment was again sitting among the audience, serious and pale, attentively following the words of his successor on the platform, who — as a delegate of one of the great London liberal clubs — remarked that the events which were to-day transpiring on the other side might tomorrow take place in their own country...
Auban no longer heard what any of the speakers were saying. He was absorbed in thought. He was still sitting, as an hour ago, motionless, his feet crossed over the projecting cane, his hands resting on the handle, and staring fixedly before him. The voices of the speakers as well as the applause of the crowd — all this seemed to him afar off. Often — while wandering through the roaring streets — had he been overcome by this feeling of absence: then he thought of those days when, with a sigh of relief, mankind had once again rid itself of one of its tyrants, and of the days when that worthless and curse-laden life had been avenged upon many dear and priceless ones. And he thought of the heroic forms of those martyrs, of their silent sacrifice, and of their single-hearted devotion to an idea. He thought of them whenever he saw one of those upon whose brow there still seemed to hover the shadow of those days. But no longer did it appear to him as surpassingly grand and enviable so to live and so to die. The glow of passion which had consumed his youth had fled, and lay in ashes beneath the cool breath of the understanding which constantly and ceaselessly battles against all our confused feelings, until with the belief in justice it has taken from us the last, and has itself become the only rightful guide and director of our life.
Too much blood had he seen shed, not to wish at last to behold the victories of peace. But how was that possible if the goal became ever less clear, the wishes ever more impossible, the passions ever more unbridled?
Again those days of which he was thinking were to be repeated! Again was the blood of the innocent to flow in streams, to conceal the countless crimes committed by authority against the weak, the irresolute, the blind! What was it that all these people wanted who seemed to be so enthusiastic, who spoke in such eloquent accents of truth? Protest? When had privileged wrong, acquired by the power of authority, ever heeded a protest?
But why were they the downtrodden ones? Because they were the weaker. But what is to blame? Is it not as great a blame to be weak as to be strong if there is any blame about it? Why were they not the stronger?
With the cruel severity of his penetrating logic he continued to examine and dissect. The pain which here spoke so eloquently through the looks and words of all, the pain of being obliged to witness the crime, was it not less than that which the attempt to actually prevent its commission would have caused? Why else did they content themselves with protesting, with merely protesting?
Surely, they might have been the stronger. But for what other reason, were they not the stronger than that they were the weaker?
There was a great emptiness and coldness in him after the flaming passion. It seemed to him as if he were suspended in an icy eternity without space and limits, and in the anguish of death trying to catch hold of airy nothing.
The old man who was sitting beside him looked into Auban’s face at this moment. It was of an ashen gray, and in his eyes gleamed an expiring fire.
Meanwhile the speakers were untiringly following each other on the platform. The excitement seemed still to be increasing, although no one in the spacious hall had remained unaffected by it, except, perhaps, the reporters, who, in a businesslike manner, were making notes.
Auban no longer heard anything. Once he had half risen as if he had decided to speak. But he saw that the list of speakers was not yet exhausted, and he abandoned the intention of uttering the word which was not to be uttered that evening.
Only once he looked up during the last hour. A name had been announced which England had long ago indelibly inscribed in the history of her poetry of the nineteenth century among the most brilliant; of a man who was mentioned as one of the regenerators and most active promoters of industrial art; and who finally was one of the most thorough students and most prominent champions of English Socialism. This remarkable and incomparable man, — poet, painter, and Socialist in one person, and a master in all, — notwithstanding his white hair, had the animation and freshness of youth. Auban had never forgotten one of his countless lectures, which he was now delivering before hundreds, in one of the many small club-rooms of the Socialist League branches in London, now before thousands in public meetings in Edinburgh or Glasgow, — “The Coming Society.” And never had the picture of the free society risen more enticingly and delusively before Auban’s eyes than under the spell of these words which the poet had attempted to gift with magic and beauty, the artist with plasticity and volume, the thinker with argumentative power and conviction. “How beautiful it would be if it could be so — how everything would be dissolved in harmony and peace,” had been his thoughts then.
An old bard and patriarch, and yet on the other hand the most natural, the most healthful old Englishman — the self-made man — in blue, collarless shirt and most comfortable dress, he was standing there and talking rather than speaking, of the days of Chicago.
The applause with which his coming and going had been greeted gave proof of the popularity of this man whose interest and energy for the cause of the social movement seemed to know no fatigue.
It was long past ten o’clock when the chairman rose to read the resolution in his clear, loud voice. The hands flew in the air — there was not one in opposition; the resolution was unanimously carried. A cablegram was sent to New York, where on the same occasion a demonstrative meeting was to take place the next day: it bore the good wishes of the assembled across the ocean.
Then the hall began slowly to be vacated. The eagerly talking, excited crowd pushed gradually through the doors into the open air; the reporters gathered their sheets, comparing points here and there; the platform was being deserted. Only the woman who had spoken first was still standing beside the chairman, the Atheist and Communist beside the minister of the Church and Christian Socialist Democrat.
She had probably asked for some names and notes for her little four-paged monthly paper. As Auban observed the two, it occurred to him how in their innermost nature their views touched, each other, and how it was after all only sham walls that they saw standing between them. And further, in what irreconcilable and sharp opposition he stood to what bound them together!
After he had warmly taken leave of the old gentleman, whom the young American was still holding back, he walked away slowly and alone.
The comrades with their publications were still standing at the doors, each calling out the name of his paper.
Auban recognized one of them who belonged to the “Autonomie,” a young man with a blond beard and friendly features. He inquired of him concerning Trupp, and received the assurance that he had not been present. As he was about to pass out he felt a slap on his shoulder. He turned round. Before him stood a strange old man whose face certainly no one ever forgot after having once seen it. It was an old, sunken, wrinkled, sharply cast face; the mouth lay back, so that the unshaved chin stood out prominently; the upper lip was covered by a closely cropped, bristly mustache; the eyes were hid behind a pair of large steel spectacles, but flashing in moments of excitement and still giving an expression of boldness to this old face which trouble and care had changed, only to bring out more sharply its characteristic features without being able to erase them. But otherwise the form of this old man seemed bent by the heavy burden of an immense, over-stocked leathern bag which hung down at his side. Around his neck he wore a bright-colored woolen cloth tied into many knots, which covered his shirt, and which even in the hottest days of summer he no more thought of putting aside than his threadbare brown cloak.
“Hello, old friend!” exclaimed Auban, and shook his hand; “are you here, too? Come, let’s have a drink.”
The old man nodded.
“But no ale, comrade, no brandy; only a glass of lemonade.”
“Have you become a temperance man?” asked Auban, smiling. But the old man was already going ahead.
They stepped into the large public house on the next street-corner. The spacious private apartment at its further end was nearly empty, while the others were overcrowded. Auban recognized a group of English Socialists, who had also just attended the meeting. They shook hands. Then he took the bag from the old man, gave his order, and they sat down on one of the benches. No meeting of Socialists was held in London at which this old man was not to be seen. How many years was it already? No one knew. But everyone knew him. Hearing one of his original speeches or addresses, the question may have been raised by one or another, who was the old, gray-headed man with the sharp features, who was hurling his wild accusations against the existing order with such youthful passion and defending his ideal of fraternity and equality with such youthful warmth; then he might have received the answer that he was an old colporteur who made his living by peddling Socialistic pamphlets and papers.
But who he really was only few knew.
He was fond of talking, and so he had once told Auban that he had taken part in the Chartist movement; and Auban knew also that his pamphlets and elaborations were to be found among the millions of books of the British Museum, — this one really social institute of the world, — bound, numbered, and cataloged just as carefully as the rarest manuscript of past centuries.
“Well, what new thing have you?” he asked when they had seated themselves.
The old man drew up his leathern bag and unpacked it. At ease with himself and indifferent to the people standing about, he spread out his pamphlets and papers on the table before him, while he selected for Auban what the latter did not yet possess, and in a loud voice made his original remarks concerning the worth and the worthlessness of the different things.
“What is this?” asked Auban, taking up a small pamphlet that aroused his attention. “‘Impeachment of the Queen, Cabinet, Parliament, and People. Fifty years of brutal and bloody monarchy.’” Auban looked surprised at the getup of this strange work; it was set throughout in uniformly large, coarse letters, only a few of which showed out clearly, while the rest were recognizable in consequence of their disproportionately large size; as the paper was nearly cut through by the irregular print, only one side was printed, and each two leaves pasted together; the whole pamphlet — eight such leaves — was laboriously and unevenly trimmed with the scissors, and Auban examined it with some surprise. He read a few lines which, by a strange display and use of punctuation marks, formed a violent impeachment of the Queen in the lapidary style. “Revolt, workers, revolt! Heads off!!” he read in letters a centimeter high on one of the following pages.
“What is this?” he asked.
A smile crept over the face of the old man. “That is my jubilee present to the Queen,” he exclaimed.
“But why in this primitive form?”
The old man shook his gray head.
“Look!” said he, taking off his spectacles. “My old eyes no longer see anything. So I must have recourse to an expedient and use large letters which I can feel, with my finger tips, one after the other. There is no printer’s mistake, only the punctuation.”
“And you printed this yourself?”
“Set it with my fingers, without eyes — and without manuscript, out of my head, — printed without a press, always one side at a time, stitched and published.”
“But that was a tremendous piece of work.”
“No matter. But it is good. The workingmen must read that!”
Auban looked astonished at the unsightly print, and thought with a sort of admiration of the immense toil which the getting up of these few pages must have cost the old man. He wondered whether in the age of the Marinoni press there was another such print, so grotesque in its exterior, recalling the beginnings of the printer’s art of Gutenberg. Auban read: “Fifty years of increasing luxurious debauchery and crime, committed by the royal aristocratic and damnable classes.” Thus it began, and went on with a confused enumeration of the costs of the wars, a haphazard list of names gathered from personal recollections, to close with a violent imprecation: “Oh, may the curses of a thousand murdered, starved people come over you, Victoria Guelph, upon your brutal and bloody monarchy”; and with growing astonishment Auban read also the last page, from which in formless and confused words shot forth a hot revolt.
The Englishmen, too, who knew the old man, approached him, filled with curiosity. Laughingly they bought what copies he had with him.
Then the old man put his things into the bag again, threw it over his shoulder with a powerful jerk, pulled his hats — he always wore two felt hats, one drawn over the other; this was one of his obstinate peculiarities — over his gray head, and left the place, accompanied by Auban, with a loud, harsh laugh. They went together to Moorgate Station. The old man talked continually, half to himself, and so indistinctly that Auban could understand the other half only with difficulty; but he knew him and quietly let him have his way, for it was in this manner that the old man always relieved himself of his anger.
After he had already taken leave of him, Auban still saw him walking on, gesticulating and muttering, before him. Then he disappeared in the flowing stream, and Auban stepped to the ticket-office of Moorgate Station.
On the middle platform of the immense underground space, he again met a number of acquaintances who were waiting there and talking together.
Among them were some of the speakers of the evening. Auban sat down wearily on one of the benches.
Trains came rushing in and out; up and down the wooden steps the crowds jostled and thronged. The station was filled by the white-gray smoke and steam of the engines. It floated over the platforms and the people standing there, curled round the countless blackened pillars, rafters, and posts, laid itself caressingly like a veil against the ceiling far above, and finally sought its way through the ventilators into the open street; into the life, the bustle, and roar of London.
Auban followed it with his eyes. “Well, comrade,” suddenly asked a man sitting beside him, an English writer of social essays and works, “what do you think of Chicago?”
He was not sympathetic to Auban, and it was not unknown to him that the latter never made a secret of his sympathies and antipathies. Nevertheless, he obtruded himself on him on all occasions. Auban knew very well that, like everything else, he would work up these terrible events about which he had inquired, with an indifferent heart. He looked at him coldly, and without answering him.
This steady and indifferent look became intolerable to the other.
“Well,” he said again, “don’t you think that in the defense of its contemptible privileges no infamy will be infamous enough to the bourgeoisie?”
“Certainly, sir,” said Auban; “would you, if you were at the helm, pursue a different policy?” and he looked at his questioner, with that sarcastic and contemptuous smile for which he was so hated by all whom he did not love. And without a further word he rose, nodded, and boarded, heavily and slowly, the puffing train, which, after a minute of noise, confusion, and slamming of doors, carried him in mad haste in the direction of King’s Cross.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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