Reflections of a Proletarian


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

To speak plainly what is in my

heart, I must freely own to

you, that as long as there is

any property, & while money

is the standard of all other

things, I cannot think that

a nation can be governed

either justly or happily.

              Sir Thomas More

The above quotation is from an original hand-lettered card, the reverse of which reads: "AN ENGLISH MESSAGE OF THE PAST, Anne Cobden-Sanderson's greetings to Joseph Ishill. Dec. 2nd, 1923."

MRS. COBDEN-SANDERSON, the wife of the famous English printer and bookbinder, has unfortunately not survived the appearance of this memorial book to which she is a contributor. We therefore feel a melancholy gratification in sharing with others one of the personal gifts sent to the editor of this book. Enclosed with the above citation is included a letter that verifies the tenacity of the social and libertarian ideas which flourished in that unforgettable circle of William Morris, Burne-Jones, John Ruskin, the Rosettis and a few others who haveleft a charming and per manent mark in the English arts and crafts. The following letter is quot ed in its integrity:--

"Dear Mr. Ishill,

Thank you most sincerely for send ing me a copy of Peter Kropotkin containing appreciations, valuable fragments and letters gathered together and printed with so much devotion by yourself. It is a beautiful tribute to the memory of our dear friend and brines back to me many of those whom I knew working for the Ideal in the splendid revolutionary days of the past. Alas so many are now gone before the beginning of the reconstruction of Society which awaits us-- but live in our memories and inspire us with their thoughts.--I hope and believe great changes are before us changes brought about by their teachings, and this book, the work of devoted enthusiasm will help us realize all that we owe to Peter Kropotkin Believe me, Yours fraternally,


Reflections of a Proletarian


IFE, in its co-incidental aspect, is often somewhat puzzling to one who has discarded as inadequate, all fatalistic interpretations. Yet how strangely parallel are many lives! They co-incide almost to the subtlest variations of shade and form. Plodding along some obscure and sequestered lane, contemplating beauty, not salient, but deep-sunk within the soul, one senses this most poignantly. Idea and emotion blend into an inseparable harmony, and at the moment of creative consciousness one deems oneself quite unique.

But in reality it is not so. Idea and imagination so unite that the original source of inspiration is frequently ignored. Yet, most likely, somewhere on earth another solitary being may be spinning out the very same ideas and images. Another may contribute his quota of similarities, differing only in individual subtleties to the inter-related integrity of this many nuanced world.

Above all thoughts and aspirations, the most precious is the idea of humanity,-- that cosmic brotherhood,--which aspires to live freely, to create without the nagging hindrance of poverty, the goading lash of domination, or the paralysing inertia of wealth.

Only the finest minds have felt the urge towards a libertarian ideal. Take Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Sir Thomas More, William Godwin, and you will find the revolutionary spirit, the desire for justice and equal opportunity for all men, imbuing everything they did or wrote. Some of these great rebels have renounced their ancestral, titular nobility in order to serve, through their ideal convictions, the exploited and humiliated pariahs. They courageously challenged society as being cruel and inhumane. Here also, we cannot afford to miss the most valuable contributions of the finer spirits in the domain of literature: Emerson, Thoreau, Hugo, Whitman, Nekrasoff, Heine, and others. These have always raised their protests of audacious beauty against all that was narrow, dogmatic, and immemoriably selfish in their own class. Again, we see their sincere aspirations towards opening the eyes of the multitudes who are the blind victims of an arbitrary oppression. Their potent anathemas are hurled upon a hypocritical and perverted society whose despotism, humiliating punishments and abuses are received by the majority of the masses with resignation and slavish apathy, and whose blood is coined into the accumulated wealth that serves for the further carnage of millions.

Elisée and Elie Reclus have felt it their sacred duty to dedicate their entire life and the brilliance of their intellect towards the same great cause to which their spiritual ancestors have consecrated themselves.

The philosophy of Anarchism cannot fully be grasped and understood by a superficially educated class of people. One must be highly developed along social conceptions to understand its importance. It is first necessary to possess one's own self, to revolve around one's own axis which must radiate ideals and not mechanical reproductions of a pattern designed for millions of duplicates. One must be guided by individual convictions, and must discard all superficial codes, laws, and superstitions fabricated by so-called "superiors" for the further oppression of so-called "inferiors". Anarchism, today, is properly interpreted only by those few who have developed intellect and obligation along humanitarian ideals for the betterment of mankind.

The Church, the State, Parliament, have always worked hand-in-glove, setting up priestly scarecrow and punitory terror against all libertarian thinkers who dared discard the thralldom of ignorance and superstition. These rebels have invariably begun by preaching the gospel of natural truth, and as time advanced, the sun of enlightenment grew stronger and stronger, nursing the weak into firmer life.

The vanguard of the most perfect civilization and culture could not dispense with these mighty rebels, who, like Prometheus, stole the fire of revolt from heaven and must therefore suffer eternally from the angels of darkness. We are approximating a sublimer understanding between man and man, solely through the persecuted efforts of these true martyrs who have, from time immemorial, been exposed to the lash of torture and the sting of ridicule.

The almost universal prejudice and fanaticism which hunt the revolutionist will cease only when the potential upreach toward liberty, which dwells in the humblest soul, shall be fully evoked. All creeds and all races shall then recognize mankind only. They shall recognize instinctively the free soul which dwells alike in all breasts. Great poets like Shelley and Byron have paved the way for this with the beauty and marvel of their genius.

C L. James, in surveying some years ago the Origin of Anarchism has written words which are quite applicable to the Reclus brothers, notwithstanding that Elie was a disciple of Fourrier's ideas; still one cannot go through his writings without coming across his anarchistic thoughts. Thus, James summarizes the ideal of Anarchism:

"The real strength of Anarchism, is, however, not in count of heads but weight of brains..."

"Like the Prophet, who, for solitary converse with Jehovah, scaled the mountains on whose summits there is always sunshine, the Anarchist stands above the clouds and beholds the uproar and darkness from away beneath his feet. The doctrine of Anarchism is the truth of Science. The power which secures the progress of Truth is omnipotence. No weapons framed against her shall prosper. Fulminations against what can be proved are decrees against the earth's motion. Whatever they may hurt, they will not hurt the demonstration. They can neither prevent the earth from moving nor even their promulgations from moving with the earth."


°  °

¶ Almost as often as I turn to the pages of Elisée Reclus's "Correspondance", I find intimate passages concerning Elie, his older brother. Each loved and understood the other so well the convictions of each were so similar, for all that their scientific researches differed, that I was compelled by a sense of unity to edit this memorial book for both these great brothers in the spirit, the flesh and the cause of universal fraternity. Brothers in finest reality, they strove to fraternize all mankind. Their life was one of the lovliest examples of perfect harmony between ideal and practice. But it is not for me, the mere editor and compiler, to dim the revealing clarity of the far abler contributors to this volume--in most cases, men and women who have cooperated with the Recluses, suffered and striven with them as united contemporaries--by the fainter, reflective light of a younger generation and a newer time. Let those show the scars who have been in the battle; let those reveal the banner who have held it high above the tumult and the strife. It is honour enough merely to have convoked the glorious survivors, or to have been permitted to include the documents of those who have passed away.


°  °

¶ From the crudely colored outskirts of a little Balkan nation, redundant with draperies or verdure, where thought most easily blends with imagination, I began to meditate. Amidst scenes replete with picturesque beauty I saw contrasts of pain and oppression. Against the latter, my heart instinctively protested. The fate of the down-trodden and exploited peasant class lent a tragic tone to the exquisite beauty of the land. And I felt stirring within me the fine roots of a wilder beauty: love of mankind,-love for those silent sufferers.-I saw an entire caste, by far the greater portion of humanity, sunk in misery and bleeding from the wounds inflicted upon it by centuries of barbaric traditions.

I was then, perhaps, too young to analyze the provocative questions of political and social economy. Their richest significance came in later years, with the growth and mellowing of individuality. I received, however, the initial impetus that helped set me on the right track of thought in those early days.

Not long afterward, I found myself among the inhabitants of the city, imprisoned between towering walls of mortar and stone, with the concrete pavement underfoot. It came to me, there and then, that we were all in a purgatory, man-inflicted, man-tolerated. I chanced to pause before a printing-shop. I do not recollect how long I remained there, motionless, gazing curiously upon the type-cases that fascinated me to the point of a great exhileration. I felt as if the very printers' ink were penetrating my veins and irremediably tinging the colour of my desires.

I began to see a world of realizable dreams. I had found my vocation. From then on I shouldered the burden of the conscious proletarian, -- a burden made lighter and more endurable, because the back that bent down to receive it was not bowed in humility but in the proud consciousness of assuming the dignity of participation in the tanks of labour doing the work which, through my efforts, was capable of the most enlightened good.

Towards evening, when the vermillion disk of the sun dipped beyond the mountain-chains, majestically stretching before my cottage, I would try, after the long drudgery of the day, to retain the warm sense of its lingering radiance flushing the twilight sky. The loveliness of the quiet evening penetrated deeply into the soul of one who sought in all this external beauty of the landscape an inner consolation.

But, alas, so short a space of respite could hardly obliterate the corroding effects of long hours of labour and travel. Darkness hastily advanced to lay its pall over the dying day, dimming and humbling its magnificent beauty. Then a light would illumine my little primitive "printery" and fall upon the small compartments, which printers call the "case" whence issued the type for these pages. One by one the pages were set up and printed, by a single pair of hands, and the first crow of the neighbor's cock, indicating the passing of midnight, was the signal for me to "lay off" for the night. In spite of handicaps, however, I never felt really fatigued with my work. There was always nervous energy to eke out the phisical, and I felt a certain exaltation in the thought that if I was burning the candle at both ends, it was for a social cause. I felt what almost every other individual would feel in a society differently constituted from the present one: I was doing the work I loved,--doing it with enthusiasm, if not physical strength, unimpaired.

The work was begun in the summer of 1925; now it is the summer 1927. Back of my cottage there is a rustling among the trees; the golden shaft of dawn pierces through the green embroidery of many branches; the birds begin to twitter. A milky mist is rising from the ground. Yet there is no sense of hurry,--the evolution from dawn to day is for leisurely contemplation. Only I must rush; only I must keep one ear alert for the screech of the morning train, even while the other is entranced by the quiet flutting of the birds.--For I must commute to the city, morning after morning, and can return only in the advanced hours of the day.

Thus this book was created in the quietude of nights...


°  °

¶ The tributes and appreciations herein included are, for the most part, written especially for this book. A few others derive from sources now very difficult to retrace, and from authors now deceased.

At the beginning of this work, I intended to insert a somewhat greater number of the writings of both Elisée and Elie Reclus, but as I surveyed their various works, I found the compilation too voluminous for the scope of such a volume as I contemplated.

I am exceedingly grateful to all the contributors and collaborators herein included who have so willingly helped toward the creation of this work. I am under particular obligation to Paul Reclus, who has generously, and at great pains, supplied me with documentary material never before published; also to Dr. Max Nettlau, for historical data as well as numerous translations; to Jean Grave, Henry S. Salt, Ruth Putnam, Alfred Gietzen, Prof. G. Brocher, who have all materially aided me with valuable material; to Maurice Duvalet, Luce, Wm. Pogrebysky and Louis Moreau for the artistic embellishment. No less thanks is due to Rose Florence Freeman who has rendered most of the foreign contributions into English, and I was otherwise aided by her advice in numberless details. Without such coöperation on the part of the contributors this book would never have been moulded to its present form.

Until the dawn of a more luminous day, let at least the few in quest of truth and beauty find their need of content in the written word. Nothing, alas, in this era of harsh reality can quite take the place of books. May this work then, reflect but the faintest glow of the imperishable radiance and love that unified both the life and the works of those two ideal brothers: Elisée and Elie Reclus.


Berkeley Heights, N. J.

Summer, 1927.

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