THE FORERUNNERS BY ROMAIN ROLLAND
EDEN AND CEDAR PAUL
HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE NEW YORK 1920
THE MEMORY OF
THE MARTYRS OF THE NEW FAITH
IN THE HUMAN INTERNATIONAL.
KARL LIEBKNECHT, ROSA LUXEMBURG,
KURT EISNER, GUSTAV LANDAUER,
THE VICTIMS OF BLOODTHIRSTY STUPIDITY
AND MURDEROUS FALSEHOOD,
THE LIBERATORS OF THE MEN
WHO KILLED THEM.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. ARA PACIS 11
II. UPWARDS, ALONG A WINDING ROAD 15
III. TO THE MURDERED PEOPLES 23
IV. TO THE UNDYING ANTIGONE 32
V. A WOMAN'S VOICE FROM OUT THE TUMULT 34
VI. FREEDOM 37
VII. FREE RUSSIA, THE LIBERATOR 39
VIII. TOLSTOY: THE FREE SPIRIT 41
IX. TO MAXIM GORKI 45
X. TWO LETTERS FROM MAXIM GORKI 47
XI. TO THE WRITERS OF AMERICA 51
XII. FREE VOICES FROM AMERICA 55
XIII. ON BEHALF OF E. D. MOREL 67
XIV. YOUNG SWITZERLAND 69
XV. UNDER FIRE 86
XVI. AVE, CAESAR, MORITURI TE SALUTANT 95
XVII. AVE, CAESAR, THOSE WHO WISH TO LIVE SALUTE THEE 101
XVIII. MEN IN BATTLE 106
XIX. VOX CLAMANTIS 121
XX. A GREAT EUROPEAN, G. F. NICOLAI 140
XXI. REFLECTIONS ON READING AUGUSTE FOREL 175
XXII. ON BEHALF OF THE INTERNATIONAL OF THE MIND 185
XXIII. A CALL TO EUROPEANS 195
XXIV. OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT WILSON 204
XXV. AGAINST VICTORIOUS BISMARCKISM 207
XXVI. DECLARATION OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF THE MIND 209
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE TO CHAPTER XX 217
This book is a sequel to Above the Battle. It consists of a number of articles written and published in Switzerland between the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1919. As collective title for the work, I have chosen "The Forerunners," for nearly all the essays relate to the dauntless few who, the world over, amid the tempests of war and universal reaction, have been able to keep their thoughts free, their international faith inviolate. The future will reverence the names of these great harbingers, who have been flouted, reviled, threatened, found guilty, and imprisoned. I speak of such as Bertrand Russell, E. D. Morel, Maxim Gorki, G. F. Nicolai, Auguste Forel, Andreas Latzko, Henri Barbusse, Stefan Zweig, and the choice spirits of France, America, and Switzerland, who have fought for freedom.
To these essays I have prefixed an ode, "Ara Pacis," written during the first days of the war. It is an act of faith in Peace and Concord. Another act of faith will comprise the final chapter. This time it will be faith in action; the faith which, in the face of the brute force of states and of tyrannical opinion, proclaims the invincible independence of Thought.
I was half inclined to add to this collection a meditation upon Empedocles of Agrigentum and the Reign of Hatred. But it was somewhat too long, and its inclusion would have impaired the symmetry of the volume.
In republishing the articles, I have not kept to a strictly chronological order. It appeared preferable to group them in accordance with the nature of their contents or under the guidance of artistic considerations. But at the close of each essay I have mentioned the date of original publication, and, wherever possible, the date of composition.
A few more words of explanation will help the reader to understand my general design.
Above the Battle and The Forerunners are no more than a part of my writings on the war, writings composed during the last five years. The volumes contain those essays only which I have published in Switzerland. Even so, the collection is far from complete, for I have not been able to gather together all these writings. Moreover, the most important materials at my disposal, as to scope and permanent value, are a register made day by day of the letters, the confidences, the moral confessions, which I have uninterruptedly received throughout these years from the free spirits and the persecuted of all nations. Here, likewise, as soberly as possible, I have recorded my own thoughts and my own part in the struggle. Unus ex multis. The register is, as it were, a picture of the untrammelled souls of the world wrestling with the unchained forces of fanaticism, violence, and falsehood. A long time must doubtless elapse before it will be judicious to publish this record. Enough that the documents in question, of which several copies have been made, will serve in times to come as a witness of our efforts, our sufferings, our unconquerable faith.
PARIS, June, 1919.
De profundis clamans, out of the abyss of all the hates, To thee, Divine Peace, will I lift up my song.
The din of the armies shall not drown it. Imperturbable, I behold the rising flood incarnadine, Which bears the beauteous body of mutilated Europe, And I hear the raging wind which stirs the souls of men.
Though I stand alone, I shall be faithful to thee. I shall not take my place at the sacrilegious communion of blood. I shall not eat my share of the Son of Man.
I am brother to all, and I love you all, Men, ephemerals who rob yourselves of your one brief day.
Above the laurels of glory and above the oaks, May there spring from my heart upon the Holy Mount, The olive tree, with the sunlight in its boughs, where the cicadas sing.
* * * * *
Sublime Peace who holdest, Beneath thy sovran sway, The turmoil of the world, And who, from out the hurtling of the waves, Makest the rhythm of the seas;
Cathedral established Upon the perfect balance of opposing forces; Dazzling rose-window, Where the blood of the sun Gushes forth in diapered sheaves of flame Which the harmonising eye of the artist has bound together;
Like to a huge bird Which soars in the zenith, Sheltering the plain beneath its wings, Thy flight embraces, Beyond what is, that which has been and will be.
Thou art sister to joy and sister to sorrow, Youngest and wisest of sisters; Thou holdest them both by the hand. Thus art thou like a limpid channel linking two rivers, A channel wherein the skies are mirrored betwixt two rows of pale poplars.
Thou art the divine messenger, Passing to and fro like the swallow From bank to bank, Uniting them. To some saying, "Weep not, joy will come again"; To others, "Be not over-confident, happiness is fleeting."
Thy shapely arms tenderly enfold Thy froward children, And thou smilest, gazing on them As they bite thy swelling breast.
Thou joinest the hands and the hearts Of those who, while seeking one another, flee one another; And thou subjectest to the yoke the unruly bulls, So that instead of wasting In fights the passion which makes their flanks to smoke, Thou turnest this passion to account for ploughing in the womb of the land The furrow long and deep where the seed will germinate.
Thou art the faithful helpmate Who welcomest the weary wrestlers on their return. Victors or vanquished, they have an equal share of thy love. For the prize of battle Is not a strip of land Which one day the fat of the victor Will nourish, mingled with that of his foe. The prize is, to have been the tool of Destiny, And not to have bent in her hand.
O my Peace who smilest, thy soft eyes filled with tears, Summer rainbow, sunny evening, Who, with thy golden fingers, Fondlest the besprinkled fields, Carest for the fallen fruits, And healest the wounds Of the trees which the wind and the hail have bruised;
Shed on us thy healing balm, and lull our sorrows to sleep! They will pass, and we also. Thou alone endurest for ever.
Brothers, let us unite; and you, too, forces within me, Which clash one upon another in my riven heart! Join hands and dance along!
We move forward calmly and without haste, For Time is not our quarry. Time is on our side. With the osiers of the ages my Peace weaves her nest.
* * * * *
I am like the cricket who chirps in the fields. A storm bursts, rain falls in torrents, drowning The furrows and the chirping. But as soon as the flurry is over, The little musician, undaunted, resumes his song.
In like manner, having heard, in the smoking east, on the devastated earth, The thunderous charge of the Four Horsemen, Whose gallop rings still from the distance, I uplift my head and resume my song, Puny, but obstinate.
Written August 15 to 25, 1914.
"Journal de Geneve" and "Neue Zuercher Zeitung," December 24 and 25, 1915; "Les Tablettes," Geneva, July, 1917.
UPWARDS, ALONG A WINDING ROAD
If I have kept silence for a year, it is not because the faith to which I gave expression in Above the Battle has been shaken (it stands firmer than ever); but I am well assured that it is useless to speak to him who will not hearken. Facts alone will speak, with tragical insistence; facts alone will be able to penetrate the thick wall of obstinacy, pride, and falsehood with which men have surrounded their minds because they do not wish to see the light.
But we, as between brothers of all the nations; as between those who have known how to defend their moral freedom, their reason, and their faith in human solidarity; as between minds which continue to hope amid silence, oppression, and grief—we do well to exchange, as this year draws to a close, words of affection and solace. We must convince one another that during the blood-drenched night the light is still burning, that it never has been and never will be extinguished.
In the abyss of suffering into which Europe is plunged, those who wield the pen must be careful never to add an additional pang to the mass of pangs already endured, and never to pour new reasons for hatred into the burning flood of hate. Two ways remain open for those rare free spirits which, athwart the mountain of crimes and follies, are endeavouring to break a trail for others, to find for themselves an egress. Some are courageously attempting in their respective lands to make their fellow-countrymen aware of their own faults. This is the course adopted by the valiant Englishmen of the Independent Labour Party and of the Union of Democratic Control, and by those fine men of untrammelled mind Bertrand Russell, E. D. Morel, Norman Angell, Bernard Shaw; this is the path taken by certain persecuted Germans, too few in number; this is the path taken by the Italian socialists, by the Russian socialists, by Gorki, the master of Sorrow and of Pity; and this is the path taken by certain free Frenchmen.
My own task is different, for it is to remind the hostile brethren of Europe, not of their worst aspects but of their best, to recall to them reasons for hoping that there will one day be a wiser and more loving humanity.
What we now have to contemplate may, indeed, well incline us to despair of human reason. For those, and they were many, who were blissfully slumbering upon their faith in progress, a progress from which there was to be no looking back, the awakening has been rude. Without transition, such persons have passed from the absurd excesses of slothful optimism to the vertigo of unplumbed pessimism. They are not used to looking at life except from behind a parapet. A barrier of comfortable illusions has hidden from them, hitherto, the chasm above which, clinging to the face of the precipice, winds the narrow path along which man is marching. Here and there the wall has crumbled. The footing is treacherous. But we must pass, nevertheless. We shall pass. Our fathers had to make their way across many such places. We have been too ready to forget. Save for a few shocks, the years of our own lives have been spent in a sheltered age. But in the past, epochs of disturbance have been commoner than epochs of calm. What is taking place to-day is horribly abnormal for those alone who were drowsing in the abnormal peace of a society equally devoid of foresight and of remembrance. Let us call to mind those whom the past has known. Let us think of Buddha, the liberator; of the Orphics worshipping Dionysos-Zagreus, god of the innocent who suffer and will be avenged; of Xenophanes of Elea who had to witness the devastation of his fatherland by Cyrus; of Zeno tortured; of Socrates put to death by poison; of Plato dreaming during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants; of Marcus Aurelius, sustaining the empire whose decline was at hand. Let us think of those who watched the ruin of the old world; of the bishop of Hippo dying when his city was about to fall before the onslaught of the Vandals; of the monks who, in a Europe peopled with wolves, worked as illuminators, builders, musicians. Let us think of Dante, Copernicus, and Savonarola; of exiles, persecutions, burnings at the stake; of Spinoza, frail in health, writing his immortal Ethics by the light of the burning villages of his invaded country. Let us think of our own Michel de Montaigne, in his defenceless castle, softly pillowed, waking from his light sleep to hear the bells pealing from the church towers of the countryside, or asking himself in his dreams if he was to be murdered that very night.... Man is not fond of reviving the memory of disagreeable occurrences; he dislikes to think of things which disturb his tranquillity. But in the history of the world, tranquillity has been rare; nor is it in a tranquil environment that the greatest souls have been fashioned. Let us without a shudder contemplate the raging flood as it passes. For those whose ears are attuned to the rhythm of history, all contributes to the same work, evil no less than good. Those of impulsive temperament, carried away by the flood, move along blood-stained roads, and are none the less moving, willy-nilly, whither fraternal reason beckons. Were we compelled to depend upon men's common sense, upon their goodwill, upon their moral courage, upon their kindliness, there would be ample reason for despairing of the future. But those who will not or cannot march, pushed onward by blind forces, a bleating flock, move towards the goal: Unity.
* * * * *
The unity of our own France was forged by agelong struggles between the separate provinces. At one time every province, even every village, was a fatherland. For more than a hundred years the Armagnacs and the Burgundians (my ancestors) went on breaking one another's heads, to discover in the end that they were men of one blood. The war which is now mingling the blood of France and of Germany, is leading the French and the Germans to drink from the same cup to their future union, like the barbaric heroes of the epic age. Struggle and bite as they may, their very grapple binds them together. These armies which are endeavouring to destroy one another, have become more akin in spirit than they were before they faced one another in battle. They can kill one another, but at least they now know one another, whereas ignorance is the nethermost circle of death. Numerous testimonies from the opposing fronts have borne clear witness to the mutual desire of the soldiers, though still fighting, to understand one another. Men who from trench to enemy trench watch one another while taking aim, may remain foes, but they are no longer strangers. At no distant day a union of the nations of the west will form a new fatherland, which itself will be but a stage upon the road leading to a still greater fatherland, that of Europe. Do we not already see the dozen states of Europe, divided into two camps, unwittingly attempting to build a federation wherein war between nations will be no less sacrilegious than would now be war between provinces; a federation in which the duty of to-day will be the crime of to-morrow? Has not the need for this future union been affirmed by the most conflicting voices: by William II, who spoke of the "United States of Europe"; by Hanotaux, with his "European Confederation"; by Ostwald, and Haeckel of lamentable memory, with their "Society of States"? Each one, doubtless, worked for his own saint; but all these saints served the same master!...
Nay more, the gigantic chaos wherein, as if amid the throes that occurred when the earth was still molten, all the human elements from the three continents of the Old World are clashing one against another, is a racial alchemy preparing, alike by force and by spiritual factors, alike by war and by peace, the coming fusion of the two halves of the world, of the two hemispheres of thought, of Europe and Asia. I do not talk utopia. For some years this drawing together has been preluded by a thousand signs, by mutual attraction in the realms of thought and of art, in the realms of politics and of commerce. The war has merely accelerated the movement; and while the war yet rages, men are at work on behalf of this cause. Two years ago, in one of the belligerent states, there were founded great institutes for the comparative study of the civilisations of Europe and of Asia, and to promote their mutual penetration.
"The most striking phenomenon of our day," thus runs the program of one of these institutes, "is the formation of a universal civilisation, issuing from a number of distinct civilisations handed down from earlier days.... No past epoch has ever beheld a more powerful impetus animating the human race than that which mankind has known during recent centuries and the one we have now entered. There has been nothing comparable to this torrential confluence of all the forces to form a resultant, the achievement of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the state, in science, and in art, everywhere, there is now being elaborated the great individuality of universal mankind; everywhere there is uprising the new life of the universal human spirit.... The three spiritual and social worlds, the three mankinds (that of Europe and the Near East, that of Hindustan, and that of the Far East) are beginning to be assembled to form a single mankind.... Until two generations ago, the individual man was member of a single branch of mankind, of one distinct great form of life. Now he participates in a vast vital flux constituted by the whole of mankind; he must direct his actions in accordance with the laws of that flux, and must find his own place in it. Should he fail to do this, he will lose the best part of himself.—Doubtless, the most significant features of the past, of its religions, of its art, of its thought, are not in question. These remain, and will remain. But they will be raised to new altitudes, dug to new depths. A wider circle of life is opening around us. We need not be surprised that many become giddy and imagine that the greatness of the past is decaying. But the helm must be entrusted to those who are competent, calmly and firmly, to make things ready for the new age.... The completest happiness which can accrue to man henceforward, will be derived from the intelligence of mankind as a whole, and from the multiple ways which man has discovered of attaining happiness.... For a long time to come the intensest joy which man can know on earth will derive from supplementing the ideals of Europe by the ideals of Asia."
Researches of this nature, characterised by universality and objectivity, "formally exclude," continues the program, "everything that tends to foster hatred among nations, classes, and races; everything that induces disintegration and useless struggle.... Those who are engaged in such researches have to fight one thing above all, to fight hatred, ignorance, and lack of understanding.... Their splendid and urgent task is to bring to light the beauty which exists in every human individuality and every nation; their task is the practical one of discovering the scientific means of adjusting differences between nations, classes, and races. Science, and science alone, is competent, by strenuous labour, to win peace...."
Thus amid the warfare of the nations are being laid the foundations of spiritual peace between the nations, like a lighthouse which reveals to widely separated vessels the distant haven where they will anchor side by side. The human mind has reached the gateway leading into a new road. The gateway is too narrow, and people are crushing one another as they endeavour to get through. But beyond it I see stretching the broad highway along which they will move and where there is room for all. Amid the encircling horrors, the vision comforts me. My heart suffers, but my spirit sees the light.
* * * * *
Take courage, brothers! Despite all, there are good reasons for hope. Willy-nilly, men are advancing towards our goal; even those who think they have turned their backs on it. In 1887, when the ideas of democracy and international peace bade fair to triumph, I was talking to Renan, who uttered these prophetic words: "You will live to see another great reaction. It may seem to you then that all we are defending has been destroyed. But rest easy in your mind. Humanity's road is a mountain path, winding to and fro among the spurs, so that at times we fancy that we are going away from the summit. But we never cease to climb."
Everything is working on behalf of our ideal; even those are working for it whose blows are directed towards its ruin. Everything makes for unity, the worst no less than the best. Let no one interpret me as implying that the worst is as good as the best! Between the misguided ones who (poor innocents!) preach the war that will end war (those whom we may name the "bellipacifists"), and the unqualified pacifists, those who take their stand upon the gospels, there is a difference like that between madmen who, desiring to get quickly from the attic into the street, would throw furniture and children out of the window—and those who walk down the stairs. Progress is achieved; but nature does not hurry, and her methods are wasteful. The most trifling advance is secured by a terrible squandering of wealth and of lives. When Europe, moving reluctantly, haltingly, like a sorry screw, comes at length to the conviction that she must unify her forces, the union, alas, will be a union of the blind and the paralytic. She will reach the goal, but will be bloodless and exhausted.
For our part, however, we have long been awaiting you there; long ago we achieved unity, we, the free spirits of all the ages, all the classes, and all the races. Those belonging to the remote civilisations of Egypt and the east; the Socrates' and the Lucians of the modern age, such as Thomas More, Erasmus, and Voltaire; those belonging to a distant future, a future which will perchance (looping the loop of time) return to the thought of Asia—the great and the simple, but all free spirits and all brothers, we are but one people. The centuries of the persecutions, the wide world round, have linked us heart and hand. It is this unbreakable chain, encompassing the clay image we term civilisation, which keeps the frail structure from falling to pieces.
"Le Carmel," Geneva, December, 1916.
TO THE MURDERED PEOPLES
The horrors that have taken place during the last two and a half years have given a rude spiritual shock to the western world. No one can ever forget the martyrdom of Belgium, Serbia, Poland, of all the unhappy lands of the west and of the east trampled by invaders. Yet these iniquitous deeds, by which we are revolted because we ourselves are the sufferers—for half a century or more, European civilisation has been doing them or allowing them to be done.
Who will ever know at what a price the Red Sultan has purchased from his mutes of the European press and European diplomacy their silence concerning the slaughter of two hundred thousand Armenians during the first massacres, those of 1894 to 1896? Who will voice the sufferings of the peoples delivered over to rapine during colonial enterprises? When a corner of the veil has been lifted, when in Damaraland or the Congo we have been given a glimpse of one of these fields of pain, who has been able to bear the sight without a shudder? What "civilised" man can think without a blush of the massacres of Manchuria and of the expedition to China in 1900 and 1901, when the German emperor held up Attila as an example to his soldiers, when the allied armies of the "civilised world" rivalled one another in acts of vandalism against a civilisation older and nobler than that of the west? What help has the western world given to the persecuted races of eastern Europe, to the Jews, the Poles, the Finns, etc.? What aid to Turkey and to China in their efforts towards regeneration? Sixty years ago, China, poisoned by Indian opium, wished to free herself from the deadly vice. But after two wars and a humiliating peace, she had to accept from England this poison, which is said during a century to have brought to the East India Company profits amounting to L440,000,000. Even in our own day, when China, by a heroic effort, had within ten years cured herself of this disastrous sickness, the sustained pressure of public opinion was requisite to compel the most highly civilised of the European states to renounce the profits derived from the poisoning of a nation. The facts need hardly surprise us, seeing that this same western state continues to draw revenues from the poisoning of its own subjects.
"On the Gold Coast," writes M. Arnold Porret, "a missionary once told me how the negroes account for the European's white skin. God Almighty asked him, 'What hast thou done with thy brother?' And he turned white with fear."
European civilisation stinks of the dead-house. "Jam foetet...." Europe has called in the grave-diggers. Asia is on the watch.
On June 18, 1916, at the Imperial University of Tokyo, Rabindranath Tagore, the great Hindu, spoke as follows: "The political civilisation which has sprung from the soil of Europe and is overrunning the whole world, like some prolific weed, is based upon exclusiveness. It is always watchful to keep the aliens at bay or to exterminate them. It is carnivorous and cannibalistic in its tendencies, it feeds upon the resources of other peoples and tries to swallow their whole future. It is always afraid of other races achieving eminence, naming it as a peril, and tries to thwart all symptoms of greatness outside its own boundaries, forcing down races of men who are weaker, to be eternally fixed in their weakness.... This political civilisation is scientific, not human. It is powerful because it concentrates all its forces upon one purpose, like a millionaire acquiring money at the cost of his soul. It betrays its trust, it weaves its meshes of lies without shame, it enshrines gigantic idols of greed in its temples, taking great pride in the costly ceremonials of its worship, calling this patriotism. And it can safely be prophesied that this cannot go on...."
"This cannot go on." Do you hear, Europeans? Are you stopping your ears? Listen to the voice within! We ourselves must question ourselves. Let us not resemble those who ascribe to their neighbour all the sins of the world, and think themselves blameless. For the curse under which we are labouring to-day, each one of us must bear his share of responsibility. Some have erred by deliberate choice, others through weakness, and it is not the weak who are the least guilty. The apathy of the majority, the timorousness of the well-meaning, the selfishness and scepticism of listless rulers, the ignorance or cynicism of the press, the rapacity of profiteers, the faint-hearted servility of the thinkers who make themselves the apostles of devastating prejudices which it should be their mission to uproot; the ruthless pride of intellectuals who value their own ideas more than they value the lives of their fellow-men, and who will send millions to death to prove themselves in the right; the counsels of expediency of a church that is too Roman, a church in which St. Peter the fisherman has become the ferryman of diplomacy; pastors with arid souls, with souls keen-edged as a knife, immolating their flocks in the hope of purifying them; the blind submission of the silly sheep.... Who among us is free from blame? Who among us can wash his hands of the blood of a butchered Europe? Let each one admit his fault and endeavour to expiate it!—But let us turn to the most immediate task.
Here is the outstanding fact: EUROPE IS NOT FREE. The voice of the nations is stifled. In the history of the world, these years will be looked upon as the years of the great Slavery. One half of Europe is fighting the other half, in the name of liberty. That they may fight the better, both halves of Europe have renounced liberty. An appeal to the will of the nations is fruitless. As individual entities, THE NATIONS NO LONGER EXIST. A handful of politicians, a few score journalists, have the audacity to speak in the name of this nation or of that. They have no right to speak. They represent no one but themselves. They do not even represent themselves. As early as 1905, Maurras, denouncing the tamed intelligentsia which claims to lead opinion and to represent the nation, spoke of it as "ancilla plutocratiae." ... The nation! Who has the right to call himself the representative of a nation? Who knows the soul, who has ever dared to look into the soul, of a nation at war? It is a monster, composed of many myriads of conglomerated lives, of lives that are distinct and conflicting, lives that move in all directions and are yet joined at the base like the tentacles of an octopus.... It is a confused mingling of all the instincts, and of all the reasons, and of all the unreasons.... Blasts of wind from the abyss; sightless and raging forces issuing from the seething depths of animalism; a mad impulse towards destruction and self-destruction; the crude appetites of the herd; distorted religion; mystical erections of the soul enamoured of the infinite, and seeking the morbid assuagement of joy through suffering, through its own suffering, and through the suffering of others; the pretentious despotism of reason, claiming the right to impose on others the unity it lacks yet desires; romanticist flashes of an imagination kindled by memories of the past; the academic phantasmagoria of official history, of the patriotic history which is ever ready to brandish the "Vae Victis" of Brennus, or the "Gloria Victis," as circumstances may dictate.... Helter-skelter there surge upon the tide of passion all the lurking fiends which, in times of peace and order, society spurns.... Every one of us is entangled in the tentacles of the octopus. Every one of us discovers in himself the same confusion of good and of bad impulses, knotted and intertwined. A tangled skein. Who shall unravel it?... Thence comes the feeling of inexorable fate by which, in such crises, men are overwhelmed. Nevertheless this feeling derives merely from their own despondency in face of the efforts necessary to free themselves, efforts manifold and prolonged, but within the compass of their powers. If each one did what he could (no more would be required!) fate would not prove inexorable. The apparent fatality results from the universal abdication. By abandoning himself to fate, each one incurs a share of the guilt.
But the shares in the guilt are unequal. Honour to whom honour is due! In the loathsome stew which European politics constitute to-day, money is the tit-bit. Society is enchained, and the hand holding the chain is the hand of Plutus. He is the real master, the real ruler, of the states. It is he who makes of them fraudulent firms, swindling enterprises. The reader must not suppose that we wish to fix the whole responsibility for the ills we are now enduring upon this or that social group, upon this or that individual. We are not such innocents; we have no wish to make a scapegoat of anyone! This would be too easy a solution. We shall not even say, "Is fecit cui prodest." We shall not say that those desired the war who are now shamelessly profiting by the war. All that they want is profit, and how the profit is made is of no moment to them. They accommodate themselves equally well to war and to peace, to peace and to war, for all is grist which comes to their mill. Let us give one example among a thousand to show how indifferent these men of money become to everything but money. It is a matter of recent history that a group of great German capitalists bought mines in Normandy and gained possession of a fifth part of the mineral wealth of France. Between 1908 and 1913, developing for their own profit the iron industry of our country, they helped in the production of the cannons whose fire is now sweeping the German lines. Such a man was the fabled Midas of antiquity, King Midas of the golden touch.... Do not suppose them to entertain hidden but far-reaching designs. They are men of short views. Their aim is to pile up as much wealth as they can, as quickly as possible. In them we see the climax of that anti-social egoism which is the curse of our day. They are merely the most typical figures in an epoch enslaved to money. The intellectuals, the press, the politicians, the very members of the cabinets (preposterous puppets!), have, whether they like it or not, become tools in the hands of the profiteers, and act as screens to hide them from the public eye. Meanwhile the stupidity of the peoples, their fatalistic submissiveness, the mysticism they have inherited from their primitive ancestors, leave them defenceless before the hurricane of lying and frenzy which drives them to mutual slaughter....
There is a wicked and cruel saying that nations always have the governments they deserve. Were this true, we should have reason to despair of mankind, for where can we find a government with which a decent man would shake hands? It is all too clear that the masses, those who work, are unable to exercise due control over the men who rule them. Enough for the masses that they invariably have to pay for the errors or the crimes of their rulers. It would be too much, in addition, to make those who are ruled responsible. The men of the people, sacrificing themselves, die for ideas. Those who send others to the sacrifice, live for interests. Thus it comes to pass that the interests live longer than the ideas. Every prolonged war, even a war which at the outset was in a high degree idealistic, tends more and more, as it is protracted, to become a business matter, to become, as Flaubert wrote, "a war for money."—Let me repeat, there is no suggestion that the war is undertaken for money. But as soon as the war is afoot, the milking begins; blood flows, money flows, and no one is in a hurry to stop the flow. A few thousands of privileged persons, belonging to all castes and all nations, a few thousands, men of family, parvenus, junkers, ironmasters, syndicated speculators, army contractors, untitled and irresponsible kings—hidden in the wings, surrounded by and nourishing a swarm of parasites—are able, for the sordid motive of gain, to turn to their own account the best and the worst instincts of mankind. They profit by human ambition and by human pride; by men's grudges and men's hates. They draw equal gains from the bloodthirsty imaginings and from the courage of their fellow-mortals; from the thirst for self-sacrifice, from the heroism which makes men eager to spill their own blood, from the inexhaustible wealth of faith!...
Unhappy peoples! Is it possible to imagine a more tragical destiny than theirs? Never consulted, always immolated, thrust into war, forced into crimes which they have never wished to commit. Any chance adventurer or braggart arrogantly claims the right to cloak with the name of the people the follies of his murderous rhetoric or the sordid interests he wishes to satisfy. The masses are everlastingly duped, everlastingly martyred; they pay for others' misdeeds. Above their heads are exchanged challenges for causes of which they know nothing and for stakes which are of no interest to them. Across their backs, bleeding and bowed, takes place the struggle of ideas and of millions, while they themselves have no more share in the former than in the latter. For their part, they do not hate. They are the sacrifice; and those only hate who have ordered the sacrifice. Peoples poisoned by lies, by the press, by alcohol, and by harlots. Toiling masses, who must now unlearn the lesson of labour. Generous-hearted masses, who must now unlearn the lesson of brotherly love. Masses deliberately demoralised, given over to corruption while still alive, slain. Beloved peoples of Europe, dying for the last two years on your dying land. Have you at length plumbed the depths of woe? Alas, the worst is yet to come. After so much anguish, I dread the fatal day when, no longer buoyed by false hopes, realising the fruitlessness of their sacrifices, the masses, worn out with misery, will blindly wreak their vengeance where they may. They, likewise, will then fall into injustice, and through a surfeit of misfortune they will forfeit even the sombre halo of self-sacrifice. Then, from one end of the chain to the other, all alike will be plunged in the same sea of pain and error. Poor crucified wretches, struggling on your crosses on either side of the Master's! Betrayed more cruelly than He, instead of floating, you will sink like a stone in the ocean of your agony. Will no one save you from your two foes, slavery and hatred? We wish to, we wish to! But you, too, must wish it. Do you wish it? For centuries your reason has been bridled in passive obedience. Are you still capable of achieving freedom?
Who is able to-day to stop the war in its progress? Who can recapture the wild beast and put it back into its cage? Perhaps not even those who first loosed it, the beast-tamers who know that soon will come their turn to be devoured. The cup has been filled with blood and must be drained to the last drop. Carouse, Civilisation!—But when thou art glutted, when peace has come again across ten million corpses and thou hast slept off thy drunken debauch, wilt thou be able to regain mastery of thyself? Wilt thou dare to contemplate thy own wretchedness stripped of the lies with which thou hast veiled it? Will that which can and must go on living, have the courage to free itself from the deadly embrace of rotten institutions?... Peoples, unite! Peoples of all races, more blameworthy or less, all bleeding and all suffering, brothers in misfortune, be brothers in forgiveness and in rebirth. Forget your rancours, which are leading you to a common doom. Join in your mourning, for the losses affect the whole great family of mankind. Through the pain, through the deaths, of millions of your brethren, you must have been made aware of your intimate oneness. See to it that after the war this unity breaks down the barriers which the shamelessness of a few selfish interests would fain rebuild more solidly than ever.
If you fail to take this course, if the war should not bring as its first fruit a social renascence in all the nations, then farewell Europe, queen of thought, guide of mankind. You have lost your way; you are marking time in a cemetery. The cemetery is the right place for you. Make your bed there. Let others lead the world!
ALL SOULS' DAY, 1916.
"demain," Geneva, November and December, 1916.
TO THE UNDYING ANTIGONE
The most potent action within the competence of us all, men and women alike, is individual action, the action of man on man, of soul on soul, action by word, by example, by the whole personality. Women of Europe, you fail to use this power as you should. You are now attempting to extirpate the plague which afflicts the world, to wage war against the war. You do well, but your action comes too late. You could have fought, you ought to have fought, against this war before it broke out; to have fought it in the hearts of men. You do not realise your power over us. Mothers, sisters, helpmates, friends, sweethearts, you are able, and you will, to mould man's soul. The soul of the child is in your hands; and in relation to a woman whom he respects and loves, a man is ever a child. Why do you not guide his footsteps? If I may give a personal example, let me say that to certain among you I owe what is best or what is least bad in my own nature. If, during this whirlwind, I have been able to maintain unshaken my faith in human brotherhood, my love of love, and my scorn of hate, I owe this to a few women. To name but two among them: I owe it to my mother, a true Christian, who in early childhood inspired me with a passion for the eternal; and I owe it to the great European, Malvida von Meysenbug, the sublime idealist, who in her serene old age was the friend of my youth. If a woman can save one man's soul, why do not you women save all men's souls? The reason, doubtless, is that too few among you have as yet saved your own souls. Begin at the beginning! Here is a matter more urgent than the conquest of political rights (whose practical importance I am far from under-rating). The most urgent matter is the conquest of yourselves. Cease to be man's shadow; cease to be the shadow of man's passions, of his pride and of his impulse towards destruction. Gain a clear vision of the brotherly duty of sympathy, of mutual aid, of the community of all beings; these make up the supreme law prescribed to Christians by the voice of Christ, and to free spirits by the free reason. Yet how many of you in Europe to-day are carried away by the gusts of passion which have overpowered the minds of men; how many of you, instead of enlightening men, add their own fever to the universal delirium!
Begin by making peace within yourselves. Rid yourselves of the spirit of blind combativeness. Do not allow yourselves to be embroiled in the struggle. You will not make an end of the war by making war on the war; your first step should be to save your own hearts from the war, by saving from the general conflagration the FUTURE WHICH IS WITHIN YOU. To each word of hatred uttered by the combatants, make answer by an act of kindness and love toward all the victims. Let your simple presence show a calm disavowal of errant passions; make of yourselves onlookers whose luminous and compassionate gaze compels us to blush at our own unreason. Amid war, be the living embodiment of peace. Be the undying Antigone, who renounces hatred, and who makes no distinction between her suffering and warring brethren.
"Jus Suffragii," London, May, 1915; "demain," Geneva, January, 1916.
A WOMAN'S VOICE FROM OUT THE TUMULT
A woman with compassion and who dares to avow it; a woman who dares to avow her horror of war, her pity for the victims, for all the victims; a woman who refuses to add her voice to the chorus of murderous passions; a woman genuinely French who does not endeavour to ape the heroines of Corneille. What a solace!
I wish to avoid saying anything which could hurt wounded souls. I know how much grief, how much suppressed tenderness, are hidden, in thousands of women, beneath the armour of a dogged enthusiasm. They stiffen their sinews for fear of falling. They walk, they talk, they laugh, with an open wound in the side through which the heart's blood is gushing. No prophetic faculty is needed to foresee that the time is at hand when they will throw off this inhuman constraint, and when the world, surfeited with bloody heroism, will not hesitate to proclaim its disgust and its execration.
From childhood onwards our minds are distorted by a state education which instills into us a rhetorical ideal, a compost of fragments torn from the vast field of classical thought, revivified by the genius of Corneille and the glories of the revolution. It is an ideal which exultantly sacrifices the individual to the state, which sacrifices common sense to crazy ideas. For the minds of those who have undergone this discipline, life becomes a pretentious and cruel syllogism, whose premises are obscure but whose conclusion is remorseless. Every one of us, in his time, has been subjected to its sway. No one has better reason to know than myself how terrible a struggle is required to free the spirit from this second nature which tends to stifle the first. The history of these struggles is the history of our contradictions. God be thanked, this war—nay, it is more than a war, this convulsion of mankind—will clear away our doubts, put an end to our hesitations, compel us to choose.
Marcelle Capy has chosen. The strength of her book is to be found in this, that through her Woman's Voice from out the Tumult there breathes the common sense of the French people, which has shaken off the sophisms of ideology and rhetoric. This free vision, living, thrilling, never deceived, is sensitive to every hint of suffering or ridicule. For in the sightless epic which racks the nations of Europe, every type of experience abounds: great exploits and great crimes, sublime acts of devotion and sordid interests, heroes and grotesques. If to laugh be permissible, if it be French to laugh amid the worst trials, how much more justifiable is laughter when it becomes a weapon against hypocrisy, a weapon employed for the vindication of stifled common sense! Never was hypocrisy more widespread and more disastrous than in these days, when in every land it is a mask assumed by force. Hypocrisy, it has been said, is the homage vice pays to virtue. Well and good; but the homage is excessive. Charming comedy, in which instincts, interests, and private revenges take shelter beneath the sacred cloak of patriotism. These Tartufes of heroism, prepared to offer up a splendid holocaust—of others! These poor Orgons, duped and sacrificed, eager to destroy those who would defend them and who seek to enlighten them! What a spectacle for a Moliere or a Ben Jonson. Marcelle Capy's book presents us with a fecund collection of these perennial types which teem in our epoch, much as poisonous toadstools of unclassified species teem on rotting wood. Yet the old stumps on which they batten throw out green shoots. We perceive that the heart of the French forest is still sound; that the poison has not eaten into our vitals.
Take courage, good friends, all who love France. Rest assured that the best way of doing honour to France is to maintain her reputation for good sense, geniality, and humour. Let the voice of Marcelle Capy's book, tender and valiant, be an example and a guide. Use your eyes, let your heart speak. Be not fooled by big words. Peoples of Europe, throw off this herd mentality, the mentality of sheep who would ask the shepherds and the sheep-dogs to tell them where to feed. Take heart! Not all the furies in the universe shall prevent the world from hearing the cry of faith and hope uttered by a single free spirit, from hearing the song of the Gallic lark winging its way heavenward!
March 21, 1916.
The war has shown us how fragile are the treasures of our civilisation. Of all our goods, freedom, on which we prided ourselves most, has proved the frailest. It had been won by degrees through centuries of sacrifice, of patient effort, of suffering, of heroism, and of stubborn faith; we inhaled its golden atmosphere; our enjoyment of it seemed as natural as our enjoyment of the fresh air which sweeps across the surface of the earth and floods our lungs. A few days were enough to steal from us this jewel of life; within a few hours, the world over, the quivering wings of liberty were enmeshed as in a net. The peoples had delivered her up. Nay more, they hailed their own enslavement with acclamations. We have relearned the old truth. "No conquest is ever achieved once for all. Conquest is a continued action which must be sustained day by day under penalty of forfeiture."
Betrayed liberty, take sanctuary in the hearts of the faithful, fold your wounded pinions! In days to come you will resume your splendid flight. Then you will again be the idol of the multitude. Those who now oppress you, will then sing your praises. But in my eyes never have you seemed more beautiful than in this time of trial, when you are poor, despoiled, and stricken. You have nothing left to offer those who love you, nothing but danger and the smile of your undaunted eyes. Nevertheless, not all the wealth of the world can be compared with this gift. The lackeys of public opinion, the worshippers of success, will never compete with us for it. But we shall be true to you, Christ despised and rejected, for we know that you will rise again from the tomb.
"Avanti," Milan, May 1, 1916.
FREE RUSSIA, THE LIBERATOR!
Russian brothers, who have just achieved your great revolution, we have not merely to congratulate you; we have in addition to thank you. In your conquest of freedom, you have not been working for yourselves alone, but for us likewise, for your brothers of the old west.
Human progress has been a secular evolution. Quickly getting out of breath, flagging again and again, progress slackens, jibs at obstacles, or lies down in the road like a lazy mule. To bring about a fresh start, to ensure movement from stage to stage, there must be renewed awakenings of energy, vigorous revolutionary outbursts, which stimulate the will, brace the muscles, and blow the obstacle to smithereens. Our revolution of 1789 was one of these outbursts of heroic energy, dragging mankind out of the rut wherein it had become wedged, and compelling a fresh start. But as soon as the effort has been made and the chariot set in motion, mankind has been only too ready to stick fast in the mire again. Long ago, the French revolution brought all that it could bring to Europe. A time comes when ideas which were once fertilising, ideas which were once the forces of renewed life, are no longer anything more than idols of the past, forces tending to drag us backwards, additional obstacles. Such has been the lesson of the world war, in which the jacobins of the west have often proved the worst enemies of liberty.
For new times, new paths and new aspirations! Russian brothers, your revolution has come to awaken this Europe of ours, drowsing over the arrogant memories of whilom revolutions. March onward! We will follow in your footsteps. The nations take it in turn to lead humanity. It is for you, whose youthful vitality has been hoarded during centuries of enforced inactivity, to pick up the axe where we have let it fall. In the virgin forest of social injustice and social untruth, the forest in which mankind has lost its way, make for us clearings and sunlit glades.
Our revolution was the work of the great bourgeois, of the men whose race is now extinct. They had their rude vices and their rude virtues. Contemporary civilisation has inherited their vices alone, their fanaticism and their greed. It is our hope that your revolution will be the uprising of a great people, hale, brotherly, humane, avoiding the excesses into which we fell.
Above all, remain united! Learn from our example. Remember how the French Convention, like Saturn, devoured its own children. Be more tolerant than we proved. Your whole strength will barely suffice for the defence of the sacred cause you represent; for its defence against the fierce and crafty enemies who at this hour perchance are arching their backs and purring like cats, but who are lurking in the jungle, awaiting the moment when you will stumble if you should be alone.
Last of all remember, Russian brothers, that you are fighting our battles as well as your own. Our fathers of 1792 wished to bring freedom to the whole world. They failed; and it may be that they did not choose the best way. But they had lofty ambitions. May these ambitions be yours likewise. Bring to Europe the gifts of peace and liberty!
"demain," Geneva, May 1, 1917.
TOLSTOY: THE FREE SPIRIT
In his diary, of which the first French translation has just been issued by Paul Biriukov, Tolstoy gives utterance to the fantasy that in an earlier life his personality had been a complex of loved beings. Each successive existence, he suggested, enlarged the circle of friends and the range and power of the soul.
Speaking generally, we may say that a great personality comprehends within itself more souls than one. All these souls are grouped around one among them, much as, in a company of friends, the one with the strongest character will establish an ascendancy.
In Tolstoy there are more men than one: there is the great artist; there is the great Christian; there is the being of uncontrolled instincts and passions. But in Tolstoy, as his days lengthened and his kingdom extended, it became plain and yet more plain that there was one ruler. This ruler was the free reason. It is to the free reason that I wish to pay homage here, for it is this above everything that we all need to-day.
Our epoch is not poor in the other energies, those energies which Tolstoy possessed in so full a measure. Our age is surfeited with passions and with heroism; in artistic capacity it is not lacking; the fire of religion, even, has not been withheld. God—all the gods there be—have cast burning brands into the vast conflagration that rages among the nations. Christ not excepted. There is not one among the countries, belligerent or neutral, including the two Switzerlands, the German and the Romance, which has failed to discover in the gospels justification for cursing or for slaughter.
Rarer to-day than heroism, rarer than beauty, rarer than holiness, is a free spirit. Free from constraint, free from prejudices, free from every idol; free from every dogma, whether of class, caste, or nation; free from every religion. A soul which has the courage and the straightforwardness to look with its own eyes, to love with its own heart, to judge with its own reason; to be no shadow, but a man.
To a surpassing degree, Tolstoy set such an example. He was free. Invariably, with steadfast gaze, he looked events and men in the face without blinking. His free judgment was unperturbed even by his affections. Nothing shows this more plainly than his independence towards the one whom he valued the most, towards Christ. This great Christian was not a Christian through obedience to Christ. Though he devoted a considerable part of his life to studying, expounding, and diffusing the gospels, he never said, "This or that is true because the gospels say so." Tolstoy's outlook was, "The gospels are true because they say this or that." You yourself must be the judge, your free reason must be the judge, of truth.
There is a writing known to few, for I believe it is still unpublished. It is the Relation by Mihail Novikov the Peasant, concerning the Night of October 21, 1910, spent by him at Yasnaya Polyana. The date was a week before Tolstoy fled from his home. We read how Tolstoy conversed at Yasnaya Polyana with a number of peasants. Among these were two village lads who had just been called up for military service, and military service was the topic of discussion. One of the young men, a social democrat, said that he was going to serve, not throne and altar, but state and nation. (We see that Tolstoy was fortunate in that he did not die before making the acquaintance of the "socialist patriots," before hearing a disquisition on "the art of turning the coat.") Some of the other peasants protested. Tolstoy enquired what were the limits of the state, declaring that for himself the whole world was his fatherland. The other conscript quoted texts from the Bible, texts in defence of killing. These did not convince Tolstoy, seeing that texts can be found apt for every occasion. He spoke as follows:
"Not because Moses or Christ has forbidden us to do ill to our neighbour or to ourselves, not for such a reason must we refrain from doing ill. It is our duty to refrain because it is contrary to the nature of man to do this ill either to himself or to his neighbour. Be careful to note that I say it is contrary to the nature of man. I am not speaking of beasts.... In yourself you must find God, that he may enable you to see what is good and what is evil, what is possible and what is impossible. But as long as we allow ourselves to be guided by an external authority, be it that of Moses and Christ for one man, that of Mohammed for another, and that of the socialist Marx for another, we shall not cease to be at enmity one with another."
I wish to make these words of power widely known. As I have repeatedly declared, the worst evil with which the world is afflicted is not the power of the wicked but the weakness of the good. Now this weakness is largely due to the inertia of the will, to the dread of independent judgment, to moral cowardice. The boldest, directly they have shaken off their chains, are only too ready to assume fresh bonds. Hardly have they been freed from one social superstition, than we see them deliberately harnessed to the chariot of a new superstition. It is so much easier to allow oneself to be guided than it is to think for oneself. This abdication is the kernel of the mischief. It is the duty of each one of us to refrain from leaving to others, to the best of men, to the most trustworthy, to the most dearly loved, the decision of what it is or is not good for us to do. We ourselves must seek the solution, seek it all through life if needs must, seek it with untiring patience. A half truth which we have won for ourselves is worth more than a whole truth learned from others, learned by rote as a parrot learns. A truth which we accept with closed eyes, submissively, deferentially, servilely—such a truth is nothing but a lie.
Stand erect! Open your eyes and look about you! Be not afraid! The modicum of truth which you can secure by your own efforts is your safest light. Your essential need is not the acquisition of vast knowledge. The essential is that the knowledge you gain, be it little or be it much, shall be your own, nourished with your own blood, outcome of your own untrammelled effort. Freedom of the spirit is the supreme treasure.
Throughout the ages, free men have been few in number. With the continued spread of herd mentality the number seems not unlikely to grow smaller yet. No matter! For the sake of these very multitudes who surrender to the slothful intoxication of collective passion, we must cherish the flame of liberty. Let us seek truth everywhere; let us cull it wherever we can find its blossom or its seed. Having found the seed let us scatter it to the winds of heaven. Whencever it may come, whithersoever it may blow, it will be able to germinate. There is no lack, in this wide universe, of souls that will form the good ground. But these souls must be free. We must learn not to be enslaved even by those whom we admire. The best homage we can pay to men like Tolstoy is to be free, as Tolstoy was free.
"Les Tablettes," Geneva, May 1, 1917.
TO MAXIM GORKI
At Geneva, in January, 1917, A. V. Lunacharski delivered a lecture on the life and works of Maxim Gorki. The following tribute to Gorki was read before the lecture.
About fifteen years ago, in Paris, Charles Peguy, myself, and a few others, used to meet in a little ground-floor shop in the rue de la Sorbonne. We had just founded the "Cahiers de la Quinzaine." Our editorial office was poorly furnished, neat and clean; the walls were lined with books. A photograph was the only ornament. It showed Tolstoy and Gorki standing side by side in the garden at Yasnaya Polyana. How had Peguy got hold of it? I do not know, but he had had several reproductions made, and each of us had on his desk the picture of these two distant comrades. Under their eyes part of Jean Christophe was written.
One of the two men, the veteran apostle, has gone, on the eve of the European catastrophe whose coming he foretold and in which his voice has been so greatly needed. The other, Maxim Gorki, is at his post, and his free-spirited utterances help to console us for Tolstoy's silence.
Gorki has not proved one of those who succumbed to the vertigo of events. Amid the distressing spectacle of the thousands of writers, artists, and thinkers who, within a few days, laid down their role as guides and defenders of the masses, to follow the maddened herds, to drive these herds yet more crazy by their own cries, to hasten the rush into the abyss, Maxim Gorki was one of the rare exceptions, one of those whose reason and whose love of humanity remained unshaken. He dared to speak on behalf of the persecuted, on behalf of the gagged and enslaved masses. This great artist, who shared for so long the life of the unfortunate, of the humble, of the victims, of the outcasts of society, has never denied his sometime companions. Having become famous, he turns back to them, throwing the powerful light of his art into the dark places where wretchedness and social injustice are hidden away. His generous soul has known suffering; he does not close his eyes to the sufferings of others.
Haud ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco....
Consequently, in these days of trial (trial which we greet, because it has taught us to take stock of ourselves, to estimate the true value of hearts and of thoughts), in these days when freedom of the spirit is everywhere oppressed, we must cry aloud our homage to Maxim Gorki. Across the battlefields, across the trenches, across a bleeding Europe, we stretch forth our hands to him. Henceforward, in face of the hatred which rages among the nations, we must affirm the union of New Europe. To the fighting "Holy Alliances" of the governments, we counterpose the brotherhood of the free spirits of the world!
January 30, 1917.
"demain," Geneva, June, 1917.
TWO LETTERS FROM MAXIM GORKI
PETROGRAD, end of December, 1916.
MY DEAR AND VALUED COMRADE ROMAIN ROLLAND,
Will you be good enough to write a biography of Beethoven, suitable for children? I am simultaneously writing to H. G. Wells, whom I ask to let me have a life of Addison; Fridtjof Nansen will do the life of Christopher Columbus; I shall myself deal with the life of Garibaldi; the Hebrew poet Bialik will write the life of Moses. With the aid of the leading authors of our day I hope to produce a number of books for children, containing biographies of the leaders of mankind. The whole series will be issued under my editorship....
You know that in these days nothing needs our attention so much as young people. We grown-ups, we whose course is nearly run, are leaving a poor inheritance to our children, are bequeathing to them a sad life. This foolish war is a striking proof of our moral weakness, of the decay of civilisation. Let us, then, remind our children that men have not always been so weak and so bad as we are. Let us remind them that in all the nations there have been and still are great men, fine spirits. Now, above all, should we do this, when savagery and brutality are rife.... I beseech you, my dear Romain Rolland, to pen this biography of Beethoven, for I am convinced that no one can do it better than yourself....
I have read and reread the articles you have published during the war, and I take this opportunity of telling you that they have inspired me with profound respect and love for you. You are one of the rare persons whose soul has remained unaffected by the madness of this war. It is a delight to me to know that you have continued to cherish the best principles of humanity.... Allow me, from a great distance, to clasp you by the hand, dear comrade.
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At the end of January, Romain Rolland replied, accepting the proposal that he should rewrite the life of Beethoven for young people, and asking Gorki to indicate the length and the method of treatment. Was the book to be a causerie, or a plain statement of facts? Rolland suggested additional names for the series of biographies: Socrates; Francis of Assisi; representative figures of Asia.
...Will you permit me to make a friendly remark? I am a trifle uneasy as to some of the names mentioned in your letter, uneasy as to the effect upon children's minds. You propose to put before them such formidable examples as that of Moses. Your aim, obviously, is to impress on them the importance of moral energy, which is the source of all light. But it is not a matter of indifference whether this light be turned towards the past or towards the future. There is no lack of moral energy to-day. The quality abounds, but it is devoted to the service of an obsolete ideal, an ideal which oppresses and kills. I must admit that I am somewhat estranged from the great men of the past, considered as examples for the conduct of life. For the most part I am disappointed in them. I admire them on aesthetic grounds, but I cannot endure the intolerance and the fanaticism they so often display. Many of the gods whom they worshipped have to-day become dangerous idols. Mankind, I fear, will fail to fulfil its lofty destiny unless it can transcend these earlier ideals, unless it prove able to offer wider horizons to the coming generations. In a word, I love and admire the past; but I wish the future to excel the past. It can; it must....
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Maxim Gorki answered as follows:—
PETROGRAD, March 18 to 21, 1917.
I hasten to reply, dear Romain Rolland. The book on Beethoven should be written for young people from thirteen to eighteen years of age. It should be an objective and interesting account of the life of a man of genius, of the development of his mind, of the chief incidents in his career, of the difficulties he overcame and of the triumphs he achieved. It should contain as much as can be learned concerning Beethoven's childhood. In young folk we wish to inspire love for life and trust in life; to adults we wish to teach heroism. Man has to learn that he is the creator and the master of the world; that his is the responsibility for all its misfortunes; that his, too, is the credit for all that is good in life. We must help man to break the chains of individualism and nationalism. Propaganda on behalf of universal union is absolutely essential.
I am delighted with your idea of writing the life of Socrates, and I hope you will carry it out. I suppose your description of Socrates will be placed on a background of classical life, on the background of the life of Athens?
Most penetrating are your observations on the question of a life of Moses. I am entirely with you as far as concerns the disorganising influence which religious fanaticism exercises upon life. But I choose Moses simply as a social reformer. This will be the theme of his biography. I had thought of Joan of Arc. But I am afraid that the treatment of this topic would lead the writer to talk of "the mystical soul of the people," and of similar matters, which pass my understanding, and which are particularly unwholesome for Russians.
The life of Francis of Assisi is another story. It would be excellent, it would be extremely useful, if the writer of this biography were to aim at displaying the profound difference between Francis of Assisi and the holy men of the east, the saints of Russia. The east is pessimist; it is passive. The Russian saints do not love life; they repudiate it and execrate it. Francis is an epicure of religion; he is a Hellene; he loves God as the work of his own creation, as the fruit of his own soul. He is filled with love for life, and he is free from a humiliating fear of God. A Russian is a man who does not know how to live, but knows how to die.... I am afraid that Russia is even more oriental than China. We have a superabundant wealth of mysticism.... What we chiefly need to inspire men with is the love of action; we must awaken in them respect for the intelligence, for man, for life.
My sincerest thanks for your cordial letter. It is a great solace to know that somewhere, afar off, there is one who suffers the same sufferings as oneself, a man who loves the same things. It is good to know this in these days of violence and madness.... Warmest greetings.
PS.—This letter has been delayed by recent happenings in Russia. Let us rejoice, Romain Rolland, let us rejoice with all our hearts, for Russia is no longer the mainspring of reaction in Europe. Henceforward the Russian people is wedded to liberty, and I trust that this union will give birth to many great souls for the glory of mankind.
"demain," Geneva, July, 1917.
TO THE WRITERS OF AMERICA
Letter to "The Seven Arts," New York, October, 1916.
I am delighted to learn of the creation of a magazine in which the American soul will become fully aware of its own individuality. I believe in the lofty destinies of America, and the events of the hour render the realisation of that destiny urgently necessary. In the Old World, civilisation is imperilled. America must cherish the flickering flame.
You possess one great advantage over us in Europe. You are free from traditions; free from the burdens of thought, of sentiments, from agelong follies, from the obsessions in the spheres of the intellect, of art, and of politics; you are free from all these things which crush the Old World. Contemporary Europe is sacrificing her future to quarrels, ambitions, rancours, revived again and again. Every endeavour to bring these troubles to an end serves but to add a few meshes to the net wherein a murderous destiny has snared us. Our fate resembles that of the Atrides, vainly awaiting, as in the Eumenides, a god's word of power which may break the bloody spell. In art, if our writers owe their perfection of form and their clarity of thought to the strength of our classical traditions, these advantages have been gained at the cost of great sacrifices. Too few among our artists are awakened to the manifold life of the world. Their minds are mewed within a closed garden. They display little interest concerning the spacious regions through which, after leaving that garden, the river, a swelling flood, pursues its torrential course, watering all the world.
You have been born in a land which is neither encumbered nor enclosed by the artificial constructions of the mind. Profit by the fact. Be free. Do not enslave yourselves to foreign examples. Your model is in yourselves. Begin by knowing yourselves.
This is the first duty. The differing individualities which combine to make up your country must not be afraid to express themselves in art; to express themselves freely, honestly, integrally; without straining for originality, but regardless of what expression may have been found by those who have gone before, and fearless of the tyranny of opinion. Above all, let them dare to look into their own souls, to look well and long, to plumb the depths in silent meditation. Those who do so, must then dare to reveal what they have seen. This self-communing is not a self-incarceration within an egoistic personality. Those who engage in it will strike deep roots in the essential being of the nation to which they belong. I urge on you the endeavour to participate to the full in its sufferings and its aspirations. Be the light lightening the darkness of the great social masses whose mission it is to renew the world. The men and women of the common people, those whose want of interest in artistic matters is often a trial to you, are mutes. Lacking power of expression, they are ignorant of themselves. Become a voice for them. As they hear you speak, they will grow aware of themselves. In giving expression to your own souls, you will create the soul of your nation.
Your second task, vaster and more distant, will be to form a fraternal link between these free individualities, to build a rose window that shall concentre their multiple trends, to compose a symphony from out their various voices. The United States is made up of elements drawn from all the nations of the world. Let the richness of the structure help you to understand the essence of all these nations, to realise the harmony of their intellectual energies!—To-day, in the Old World, we witness the deplorable and foolish antagonism displayed by national individualities, near neighbours and close kin, distinguished only by trifling shades like France and Germany, repudiating one another, longing for one another's destruction. Parochial disputes about which the human mind is eager to achieve self-mutilation! For my part I cry aloud, not merely that the intellectual ideal of a single nation is too narrow for me; I declare that the ideal of a reconciled western world would be too narrow for me; I declare that the ideal of a united Europe would still be too narrow for me. The hour has come in which man, truly healthy and truly alive, must deliberately turn his footsteps towards the ideal of a universal humanity, wherein the European races of the Old World and of the New will join hands with the representatives of the ancient and now rejuvenescent civilisations of Asia—of India and of China. A universal humanity with a common spiritual treasury. All these splendid types of mankind are mutually complementary. The thought of the future must be a synthesis of the great thoughts of the entire universe. America lies between the two oceans which lave the two continents; America is at the centre of the life of the world. Let it be the mission of all that is best in America to cement this fecund union!
To sum up, we ask of you two things, writers and thinkers of America. We ask, first of all, that you should defend freedom, that you should safeguard its conquests and extend them: political freedom and mental freedom, an unceasing renewal of life through freedom, through this great and ever-flowing river of the mind.
In the second place, we await from you that you should bring to pass, on behalf of the world, a harmony of diverse liberties; a symphonic expression of associated individualities, of associated races, of associated civilisations, of mankind at once integral and free.
You have splendid opportunities: you have an exuberant young life; you have wide areas of virgin land. Your day has just begun. You are not wearied by the toil of a previous day. You are unencumbered by the heritage of the past. All that comes down to you from the past is a voice like the sound of many waters, the voice of a great herald whose work seems a homeric foreshadowing of the task that awaits you. I speak of the American master, Walt Whitman.—Surge et age.
"Revue mensuelle," Geneva, February, 1917.
FREE VOICES FROM AMERICA
I have often deplored that during the war the Swiss press has failed to play the great part which was assigned to it. I have not hesitated to express my regret to Swiss journalists of my acquaintance. I do not reproach the Swiss periodicals for their lack of impartiality. It is natural, it is human, to have preferences, and to show them passionately. We have all the less reason to complain seeing that (at least among the Latin Swiss) the preferences are in our favour.
My chief grievance is that, since the beginning of the war, our Swiss friends have failed to keep us fully informed of what is going on around us. We do not ask a friend to judge for us; when we are carried away by passion, we do not ask him to be wiser than we are. But if he is in a position to see and know things that are hidden from us, we have a right to reproach him if he leaves us in ignorance. He does us wrong, for through his fault we are likely to fall into errors of judgment and are likely to act wrongly.
Neutral countries enjoy an inestimable advantage. They can look the problems of the war in the face, in a way that is utterly impossible to the belligerent nations. Above all, the neutrals enjoy the advantage of being able to speak freely, a piece of good fortune which they fail to esteem at its true value. Switzerland, in the very centre of the battlefield, between the fighting camps, with inhabitants drawn from three of the belligerent stocks, is peculiarly favoured. I have had occasion to perceive and to profit by the wealth of information at the disposal of the Swiss. Hither, from all parts of Europe, comes an abundance of news, evidence, printed matter.
Yet the Swiss press makes little use of this abundance. With few exceptions, Swiss periodicals are content to reproduce the official bulletins from the armies, and the semi-official statements issued by agencies that are open to suspicion, statements inspired by the governments or by the occult forces which to-day have far more governing power than the nominal heads of governments. Rarely do we find that the Swiss papers subject these interested statements to critical discussion. Hardly ever do we find contrasted views; hardly ever are we enabled to listen to independent voices from the opposing trenches. Thus official truth, dictated by the powers that be, is imposed upon the masses with the potency of a dogma. Thought concerning the war has a catholicity which will not permit heresy to exist. Such a development is strange in Switzerland, and above all in this republic of Geneva, whose historic origins and whose reasons for existence were free opposition and fertilising heresy.
I do not propose to study the psychological causes of the suppression of thoughts which conflict with official dogma. I am inclined to think that partisan feeling is of less effect in this matter than, in some, ignorance of the facts and lack of critical faculty, and in others, really well-informed persons, failure to verify alleged facts, or an unwillingness to correct the errors of an overwrought public opinion—errors which, quite unknown to themselves, they really desire to believe. It is easier, and at the same time it is safer, to rest content with the news supplied from house to house by the great purveyors, rather than put oneself to the pains of going to the fountain head in order to revise or to supplement current information.
These errors and these lacunae are serious, however they originate, as the public is beginning to realise. It is perfectly natural that the ideas of this or that social or political party, in one or other of the belligerent nations, should conflict with the ideas of this or that journal in a neutral land. No one need be surprised that such a neutral journal should openly express its dissent. Vigilant criticism would be equally in place. But it is not permissible that a neutral journal should ignore or distort everything of which it disapproves.
Is it not intolerable, for example, that we should know nothing about the Russian revolution except from news items issued from governmental sources (non-russian for the most part), or from hostile partisans eager to calumniate all the forward groups? Is it not intolerable that the great Swiss periodicals should never give an open platform to the persons thus vilified, not even in the case of such a man as Maxim Gorki, whose genius and intellectual candour are the glory of European letters? Once more, is it not intolerable that the French socialist minority should be systematically left out of the picture, should be regarded as non-existent by the journals of French-speaking Switzerland? Is it not monstrous that these same journals, during the last three years, have maintained absolute silence concerning the British opposition, or, if they have referred to it at all, have done so in the most contemptuous terms? For we have to remember that those who voice this opposition bear some of the greatest names in British thought, such as Bertrand Russell, Bernard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, Norman Angell, and E. D. Morel; we have to remember that its views find expression in vigorous periodicals, in numerous pamphlets, and in books some of which excel in value anything that during the same period has been written in Switzerland and in France!
Nevertheless, in the long run, the staying powers of the British opposition have got the better of national barriers; the thought of this opposition has made its way into France, where some of the leading spirits are now fully aware of this English work and of these English struggles. With regret I have to record that the Swiss press has played no part in promoting the mutual understanding, and I imagine that neither the French nor the British will forget the fact.
The same thing has happened in the United States of America. The Swiss periodicals have been delighted to publish whatever the powers that be have sent them for publication; but, as usual, the opposition has been forgotten or scoffed at. When by chance a semi-official telegram from New York, meticulously reproduced (unless it has been obligingly paraphrased and provided with a sensational headline), makes some reference to the opposition, it is only that we may be inspired with contempt. It would appear that any one on the other side of the Atlantic who proclaims himself a pacifist, even if it be on Christian grounds, is looked upon as a traitor, as working in the hire of the enemy. This no longer arouses our surprise. The experiences of the last three years have been such that nothing can now surprise us. But we have likewise lost all power of trust. Having learned that those who desire truth will vainly wait for it to come to them, we set out to seek truth for ourselves wherever it may be found. When there is no drinking water in the house, we must e'en go to the well.
To-day let us listen to the words of the opposition in America, as expressed by one of the boldest of the periodicals serving that movement, "The Masses" of New York.
Here expression is given to non-official truth, and this, also, is no more than part of the truth. But we have the right to know the whole truth, be it pleasant or unpleasant. It is even our duty to know it, unless we are poltroons who fear to look reality in the face. You need not search the files of "The Masses" for records of greatness that has been lavished in the war! We know all about this, anyhow, from the official reports with which we are deluged. What we do not sufficiently know, what people do not wish to know, is the material and moral unhappiness, the injustice, the oppression which, as Bertrand Russell points out, are for each nation the obverse of every war, however just.—That is why, as far as America is concerned, we must consult the uncompromising periodical which I am about to quote.
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Max Eastman, the editor, is the soul of "The Masses." He fills it with his thought and his energy. The two last issues to reach me, those of June and July, 1917, contain no less than six articles from his pen. All wage implacable warfare against militarism and blind nationalism. Nowise duped by official declamations, Eastman declares that this war is not a war for democracy. The real struggle for liberty will come after the war. In the United States, as in Europe, the war has been the work of capitalists, and of a group of intellectuals, clerical and lay. Max Eastman insists on the part played by the intellectuals, whilst his collaborator John Reed emphasises the part played by the capitalists. Similar economic and moral phenomena have been apparent in the Old World and in the New. In the United States, as in Europe, many socialists support the war. A number of them (notably Upton Sinclair, with whom I am personally acquainted, and whose moral sincerity and idealist spirit I fully appreciate) have adopted this strange militarism. They champion universal conscription, in the hope that after the "war for democracy" "the socialist movement will know how to 'employ such a disciplined army' in building the co-operative commonwealth."