This evening, however, nothing was to be noticed of the indifferent, mechanically quiet routine of a religious meeting. The seats were occupied by an excited, strongly moved multitude loudly exchanging their opinions. Auban rapidly surveyed it. He saw many familiar faces. At the corner of the hall, near the platform, a number of the speakers of the evening had gathered. Auban cut through the rows of benches that were incessantly being filled, and approached the group. With some he exchanged a quiet pressure of the hand; to others he nodded.
And what should I say?
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What one would like to say he is not allowed to say. It is a mixed meeting? You will see, most of the speakers will disavow all sympathy with Anarchism. Auban looked round. On the table adjoining, several newspaper reporters were putting their writing pads in order. At the entrances the crowd became more and more excited. The doors were wide open. From the pushing and jostling it could be seen that large masses were still demanding admission.
Some succeeded in forcing their way to the front, where there still was room on the seats if people crowded closer together. When Auban saw this, he also quickly secured a seat for himself, for his lame leg did not permit him to remain standing for hours. He planted his cane firmly and crossed his legs. So he remained sitting the entire evening. He could overlook the whole hall, as he sat on one of the side seats: the platform lay right before him. We cannot admit that the political opinions of the seven condemned men have anything whatever to do with the principles cited, and we protest against their sentence, which, if it is executed, will make a capital crime of meetings held by workingmen in the United States of America, since it is always in the power of the authorities to incite a public gathering to resistance by threatening their lives.
We expect of our American comrades, however greatly their political opinions may differ, that they will demand the unconditional release of the seven men in whose persons the liberties of all workingmen are now threatened When Auban had finished, he saw beside him an old man with a long, white beard and friendly expression. The Knights of Labor and the Georgeites are holding back. Altogether, many things are different from what one imagines here. Here and there the excitement is great, but the time is not yet ripe. Both were silent.
Auban looked more serious than usual. But even now it was not to be discerned what kind of feeling it was which ruled him. There is another, a younger one here; he also comes from Chicago, and he will have something to say about them there. I will give you the proceedings, and the latest papers. I have brought much with me. Everything I could get. If you were to read everything, you would get a good picture of our American conditions. It does not yet believe in the gravity of the situation, and when the Eleventh has come, it will be too late.
A young Englishman, who knew Mr. Marell from the Socialist League, joined in their conversation. Auban looked up. The former said seriously: —. At the close of the nineteenth century, in full view of the nations, they will not murder seven men whose innocence is as clear as day; thousands upon thousands are slain, but people no longer have the courage to simply boast of power and mock all laws in a country with the institutions of the States.
No; they will not do it, for the reason that it would be madness from their standpoint thus to enlighten and arouse the people. No; they will not dare! Just look; all this number of people here, and so every day in all liberal countries, here and on the other side, these meetings, these papers, this flood of pamphlets! Where is the man with a mind and a heart who does not revolt? And their will would not be powerful enough to fill those hired scoundrels with terror and make them desist from carrying out their wicked designs? No; they will not dare, comrade!
It would be their own ruin! In the struggle of the two classes, both of them had seen those who hold the power in their hands commit so many outrages that they had to ask themselves what could happen that might still surprise them and excite their indignation. Auban saw how the hands of the old man, holding a gray, shabby hat, trembled, and how he was trying to conceal this slight trembling, which told of his emotion, by carelessly playing with his hat. Auban noticed that he did not care to go on with the conversation at this time, and remained silent.
And further, the old man who was sitting beside him! And what was it that he was ever anew preaching in his countless pamphlets? The ideal is one with that proclaimed two thousand years ago by the Nazarene: the brotherhood of all mankind. No, preach love!
It occurred to Auban, in recalling these words, how dangerous it was to speak in such general, such hazy, such superficial terms to those who were as yet so little prepared to discover the meaning and the import of the words. Thus did the incongruous and foreign elements more and more form themselves into a coil whose unravelling frightened away many who would else gladly have followed the individual threads Auban had only recently made the acquaintance of the old man.
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It had been at a debate in which the differences between individualistic and communistic Anarchism were discussed. Marell had been the only one who — as he himself believed — championed the former. His reasoning had interested Auban. Notwithstanding its inconsistencies, he found much in it that was in close relation to his own conclusions. So they had become, acquainted with each other and met a few times before the former returned to America, to do there, as he said, what was yet in his power to do.
As he never talked about himself, Auban did not know of what nature these efforts were to be, and from what he had heard this evening he could see farther that they had been unsuccessful. But so much was clear: that this man seemed to be at the head of a very extended ramification of connections of all kinds; for he knew all the eight persons implicated in the trial, and appeared likewise to be well informed in regard to the spread of the Anarchistic teachings in America.
He rarely spoke in public, and the tide of the revolutionary movement of London casts too many individuals on the surface to-day only to swallow them up again tomorrow, to permit of paying special attention to the transient visitor in this ceaseless coming and going. He pointed to a woman in a simple, dark dress, who was sitting near them. Her well-defined features betrayed the liveliest interest in everything that was going on about her, and she spoke animatedly and laughingly with her neighbor. But then he remembered, once having seen her in a German club, and he added: —.
Ambitious, but with a good heart. In Berlin she agitated a long time for the abolition of the medical examination of prostitutes. Does he believe he can improve the world with his poems? He will one day see how useless they are, and that people must have bread before they can think of other things. If one has nothing to eat, poetry is at an end.
The younger man smiled at the zeal of the older, who continued, undisturbed, while Auban studied the crowd. But what are we talking about? Tell me rather who is the gentleman yonder? A scamp without character. A declaimer. If he had the power, he would be a tyrant. But as it is, he does enough mischief.
Now both began to give their attention to the meeting. Auban was still absorbed in his thoughts. The chairs on the platform had become occupied by the representatives and delegates of the societies which had called the mass-meeting. Among them were several women. He was greeted with applause when his election as chairman was announced. Auban knew him; he was a Christian Socialist, who had for many years been active among the poor of the East End.
On account of his opinions he had been deprived of his living. The Church is the greatest enemy of character. He now called the meeting to order. He said that it was composed of people of the most divergent views, of Radicals and Anti-Socialists as well as of Anarchists and Socialists, but who were united in the one wish to protest against the violation of the right of free speech. He was no Anarchist like the Chicago condemned; he had a strong aversion to their doctrines; but he demanded for their disciples and followers exactly the same or even greater liberty than he — the minister of a Christian church — claimed for himself in the expression of his opinions.
All had an equal right to serve what they had learned, and what they held to be the truth, and therefore he demanded in the name of his God, and in the name of humanity, the release of these men. When he had finished, a large number of telegrams, addresses of sympathy, and letters from all parts of England were read. Many of them were received with enthusiasm. Auban knew that many of these societies had a membership of thousands; among the names he heard read were some of the greatest influence. The writers whose works everybody read — what were they all doing, all who were as surely convinced as he was of the atrocity of that sentence?
They quieted their conscience with a protest. What could they have done? Their influence, their position, their power, — these might perhaps have been strong and impressive enough to make impossible the execution of that deed in the face of an excited and general indignation that had arisen.
But their name and their protest, — these died away here before the few without effect. They, too, were the slaves of their time who might have been its true masters. Auban was roused from his thoughts by a voice which he had often heard. Beside the table on the platform was standing a little woman dressed in black. Beneath the brow which was half hidden as by a wreath by her thick, short-cropped hair, shone a pair of black eyes beaming with enthusiasm. The white ruffle and the simple, almost monk-like, long, undulating garment seemed to belong to another century. A few only in the meeting seemed to know her; but whoever knew her, knew also that she was the most faithful, the most diligent, and the most impassioned champion of Communism in England.
She, too, called herself an Anarchist. She was not a captivating speaker, but her voice had that iron ring of unalterable conviction and honesty which often moves the listener more powerfully than the most brilliant eloquence. She gave a picture of all the events that had preceded the arrest and conviction of the comrades in Chicago. Clearly — step by step — they passed before the eyes of the listeners She told of the rise and progress of the eight-hour movement in America; of the efforts of former years to enforce the eight-hour labor day among the government employees; of their successes Then she attempted to describe the tremendous excitement which had preceded the May days of the previous year: the feverish tension in the circles of the workingmen, the rising fear in those of the exploiters The rapid growth of the strikers up to the day, the first of May, which, looked forward to by all, was to bring about the decision It is a general strike.
The rage of the capitalists is comparable only to their fear. Evening after evening meetings are held in many places of the city. The government sends its policemen and orders them to fire into one of these peaceable gatherings: five workingmen are left dead on the spot It is orderly; notwithstanding the occurrences of the previous days, the addresses of the speakers are so little incendiary that the mayor of Chicago — ready to disperse the meeting on the first unlawful word — notifies the police inspector that he may send his men home.
But instead of doing so, he orders them again to march upon the meeting. At this moment a bomb flies from an unknown hand into the attacking ranks. The police open a murderous fire Perhaps the hand of one who in despair wished thus to defend himself against this new slaughter; perhaps — this was the prevailing opinion in the circles of the workingmen of Chicago — one of the commissioned agents of the police themselves; who does not know the means to which our enemies resort in order to destroy us? If this was the case, he did his business even better than had been expected.
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We know it as little as those eight men know it, who, in the tremendous consternation which spread over Chicago from this hour, were seized at hazard, as they bore the best-known names of the movement, although several of them had not even been present at the meeting. But what of that? The court was as little deterred from arresting them as later on from finding them guilty of secret conspiracy, notwithstanding some of them had never before seen each other.
Not because they are murderers — no; because they dared to open the eyes of the slaves to the causes of their slavery. Auban followed her with his penetrating eyes as she descended the steps of the platform into the hall and, on finding all the seats occupied, carelessly seated herself on one of the steps. It seemed as if he wished to look through the hand which she was holding before her eyes as if in bodily pain, into her very soul, to find there also the confirmation of his deepest conviction, which is the last to be acquired, — the selfishness of all being.
The noise and talking in the hall which had lasted several minutes subsided, and Auban again turned his thoughts and his attention upon the platform, where the chairman announced the name of the next speaker. Marell to Auban. He will tell you something about things there. He has just come from Liverpool. Auban listened attentively: the American told of some of the details of the trial which were not so well known, but which gave a better idea of the nature of the proceedings against the indicted men than anything else.
These men are bound to be hanged. I summon such men as the defendants must challenge — until they come to those whom they must accept. Cries rose from the audience, threats were heard; and the excitement in the ranks of the audience was still great, when the young American had already stepped down and given place to a little man, in a long coat, with a long, heavy beard, hair growing already thin, and of unmistakable Slav type; and the cries of indignation and wrath suddenly changed into jubilant exclamations of recognition and veneration, of enthusiasm and affection.
Everybody knew them; everybody read and re-read them. His personal power, which he had once devoted to the secret movement in Russia, now belonged to the International; and certainly the latter had gained as much in him as the former had lost. This power could never be replaced; and because everybody knew this, everybody was grateful to him who saw him.
He was a Communist. But even these labors, which gave a general idea of the extent of the information of the author in all matters of Socialism and of his enormous reading, did not enable Auban to picture to himself the possibility of the realization of these theories. And he saw also the delusive faith in this new and yet so old religion yielding nothing except a new evil harvest of despotism, confusion, and most intense misery In the meantime he who had roused these thoughts was waiting in nervous excitement — how many, many times had he thus been standing by the shore of the surging sea of humanity!
Then he began in that hard, clear English of the Russian who speaks the languages of the countries in which he lives. At first it seemed as if one could not understand him; three minutes later it was impossible to lose a single word of his animated and effective address. We protest against it as against a cruelty and an injustice. This is not an affair that concerns only the American people; the wrong done against the workingmen of that country is equally a wrong against us. The labor movement is by its whole nature international; and it is the duty of the workingmen of every country to call upon their fellow-workingmen in other countries and to uphold them in their resistance to those crimes which are committed against all alike!
He did not speak long; but his speech excited both himself and his listeners. The unmistakable earnestness of his words, his flashing eye, his passionate vehemence, awakened in the indifferent listener a presentiment of the significance of a cause which he did not understand, and strengthened in its followers the belief in its justice and its grandeur. He left the platform almost before he finished speaking, as if he wished to avoid the applause which was newly bursting forth, and the next moment was again sitting among the audience, serious and pale, attentively following the words of his successor on the platform, who — as a delegate of one of the great London liberal clubs — remarked that the events which were to-day transpiring on the other side might tomorrow take place in their own country Auban no longer heard what any of the speakers were saying.
He was absorbed in thought. He was still sitting, as an hour ago, motionless, his feet crossed over the projecting cane, his hands resting on the handle, and staring fixedly before him. The voices of the speakers as well as the applause of the crowd — all this seemed to him afar off.
Often — while wandering through the roaring streets — had he been overcome by this feeling of absence: then he thought of those days when, with a sigh of relief, mankind had once again rid itself of one of its tyrants, and of the days when that worthless and curse-laden life had been avenged upon many dear and priceless ones. And he thought of the heroic forms of those martyrs, of their silent sacrifice, and of their single-hearted devotion to an idea. He thought of them whenever he saw one of those upon whose brow there still seemed to hover the shadow of those days.
But no longer did it appear to him as surpassingly grand and enviable so to live and so to die. The glow of passion which had consumed his youth had fled, and lay in ashes beneath the cool breath of the understanding which constantly and ceaselessly battles against all our confused feelings, until with the belief in justice it has taken from us the last, and has itself become the only rightful guide and director of our life. Too much blood had he seen shed, not to wish at last to behold the victories of peace. But how was that possible if the goal became ever less clear, the wishes ever more impossible, the passions ever more unbridled?
Again those days of which he was thinking were to be repeated! Again was the blood of the innocent to flow in streams, to conceal the countless crimes committed by authority against the weak, the irresolute, the blind! What was it that all these people wanted who seemed to be so enthusiastic, who spoke in such eloquent accents of truth? When had privileged wrong, acquired by the power of authority, ever heeded a protest?
But why were they the downtrodden ones? Because they were the weaker. But what is to blame? Is it not as great a blame to be weak as to be strong if there is any blame about it? Why were they not the stronger? With the cruel severity of his penetrating logic he continued to examine and dissect. The pain which here spoke so eloquently through the looks and words of all, the pain of being obliged to witness the crime, was it not less than that which the attempt to actually prevent its commission would have caused?
Why else did they content themselves with protesting, with merely protesting?
Surely, they might have been the stronger. But for what other reason, were they not the stronger than that they were the weaker? There was a great emptiness and coldness in him after the flaming passion. It seemed to him as if he were suspended in an icy eternity without space and limits, and in the anguish of death trying to catch hold of airy nothing.
It was of an ashen gray, and in his eyes gleamed an expiring fire. Meanwhile the speakers were untiringly following each other on the platform. The excitement seemed still to be increasing, although no one in the spacious hall had remained unaffected by it, except, perhaps, the reporters, who, in a businesslike manner, were making notes. Auban no longer heard anything. Once he had half risen as if he had decided to speak. But he saw that the list of speakers was not yet exhausted, and he abandoned the intention of uttering the word which was not to be uttered that evening.
Only once he looked up during the last hour. A name had been announced which England had long ago indelibly inscribed in the history of her poetry of the nineteenth century among the most brilliant; of a man who was mentioned as one of the regenerators and most active promoters of industrial art; and who finally was one of the most thorough students and most prominent champions of English Socialism. This remarkable and incomparable man, — poet, painter, and Socialist in one person, and a master in all, — notwithstanding his white hair, had the animation and freshness of youth.
An old bard and patriarch, and yet on the other hand the most natural, the most healthful old Englishman — the self-made man — in blue, collarless shirt and most comfortable dress, he was standing there and talking rather than speaking, of the days of Chicago. The applause with which his coming and going had been greeted gave proof of the popularity of this man whose interest and energy for the cause of the social movement seemed to know no fatigue.
The hands flew in the air — there was not one in opposition; the resolution was unanimously carried. A cablegram was sent to New York, where on the same occasion a demonstrative meeting was to take place the next day: it bore the good wishes of the assembled across the ocean. Then the hall began slowly to be vacated. The eagerly talking, excited crowd pushed gradually through the doors into the open air; the reporters gathered their sheets, comparing points here and there; the platform was being deserted.
Only the woman who had spoken first was still standing beside the chairman, the Atheist and Communist beside the minister of the Church and Christian Socialist Democrat. She had probably asked for some names and notes for her little four-paged monthly paper. As Auban observed the two, it occurred to him how in their innermost nature their views touched, each other, and how it was after all only sham walls that they saw standing between them. And further, in what irreconcilable and sharp opposition he stood to what bound them together! After he had warmly taken leave of the old gentleman, whom the young American was still holding back, he walked away slowly and alone.
The comrades with their publications were still standing at the doors, each calling out the name of his paper. He inquired of him concerning Trupp, and received the assurance that he had not been present. As he was about to pass out he felt a slap on his shoulder. He turned round. Before him stood a strange old man whose face certainly no one ever forgot after having once seen it. It was an old, sunken, wrinkled, sharply cast face; the mouth lay back, so that the unshaved chin stood out prominently; the upper lip was covered by a closely cropped, bristly moustache; the eyes were hid behind a pair of large steel spectacles, but flashing in moments of excitement and still giving an expression of boldness to this old face which trouble and care had changed, only to bring out more sharply its characteristic features without being able to erase them.
But otherwise the form of this old man seemed bent by the heavy burden of an immense, over-stocked leathern bag which hung down at his side. Around his neck he wore a bright-colored woollen cloth tied into many knots, which covered his shirt, and which even in the hottest days of summer he no more thought of putting aside than his threadbare brown cloak. But the old man was already going ahead. They stepped into the large public house on the next street-corner.
The spacious private apartment at its further end was nearly empty, while the others were overcrowded. Auban recognized a group of English Socialists, who had also just attended the meeting. They shook hands.
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Then he took the bag from the old man, gave his order, and they sat down on one of the benches. No meeting of Socialists was held in London at which this old man was not to be seen. How many years was it already? No one knew.
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But everyone knew him. Hearing one of his original speeches or addresses, the question may have been raised by one or another, who was the old, gray-headed man with the sharp features, who was hurling his wild accusations against the existing order with such youthful passion and defending his ideal of fraternity and equality with such youthful warmth; then he might have received the answer that he was an old colporteur who made his living by peddling Socialistic pamphlets and papers. He was fond of talking, and so he had once told Auban that he had taken part in the Chartist movement; and Auban knew also that his pamphlets and elaborations were to be found among the millions of books of the British Museum, — this one really social institute of the world, — bound, numbered, and catalogued just as carefully as the rarest manuscript of past centuries.
The old man drew up his leathern bag and unpacked it. At ease with himself and indifferent to the people standing about, he spread out his pamphlets and papers on the table before him, while he selected for Auban what the latter did not yet possess, and in a loud voice made his original remarks concerning the worth and the worthlessness of the different things. Fifty years of brutal and bloody monarchy. He read a few lines which, by a strange display and use of punctuation marks, formed a violent impeachment of the Queen in the lapidary style. Heads off!! A smile crept over the face of the old man.
So I must have recourse to an expedient and use large letters which I can feel , with my finger tips, one after the other. Auban looked astonished at the unsightly print, and thought with a sort of admiration of the immense toil which the getting up of these few pages must have cost the old man.
The Englishmen, too, who knew the old man, approached him, filled with curiosity. Laughingly they bought what copies he had with him. Then the old man put his things into the bag again, threw it over his shoulder with a powerful jerk, pulled his hats — he always wore two felt hats, one drawn over the other; this was one of his obstinate peculiarities — over his gray head, and left the place, accompanied by Auban, with a loud, harsh laugh. They went together to Moorgate Station.
The old man talked continually, half to himself, and so indistinctly that Auban could understand the other half only with difficulty; but he knew him and quietly let him have his way, for it was in this manner that the old man always relieved himself of his anger. After he had already taken leave of him, Auban still saw him walking on, gesticulating and muttering, before him. Then he disappeared in the flowing stream, and Auban stepped to the ticket-office of Moorgate Station.
On the middle platform of the immense underground space, he again met a number of acquaintances who were waiting there and talking together. Among them were some of the speakers of the evening. Auban sat down wearily on one of the benches. Trains came rushing in and out; up and down the wooden steps the crowds jostled and thronged. The station was filled by the white-gray smoke and steam of the engines.
It floated over the platforms and the people standing there, curled round the countless blackened pillars, rafters, and posts, laid itself caressingly like a veil against the ceiling far above, and finally sought its way through the ventilators into the open street; into the life, the bustle, and roar of London. Auban followed it with his eyes. He was not sympathetic to Auban, and it was not unknown to him that the latter never made a secret of his sympathies and antipathies.
Nevertheless, he obtruded himself on him on all occasions. Auban knew very well that, like everything else, he would work up these terrible events about which he had inquired, with an indifferent heart. He looked at him coldly, and without answering him. How pass this long winter without work and without bread? It was despair that drove these people, whose modesty and contentment were so great as to cease to he comprehensible, out into public view. The damp, cheerless October was approaching its end. The days were growing shorter and the wild hours of night-life longer.
The broad, cold area of Trafalgar Square was beginning to fill with the forms of misery already in the early morning hours. For thirty-five years already had they thus, year after year, at the beginning of winter, stepped into the presence of wealth. And every year their numbers increased, every year their assurance became more confident, every year their demands more definite! Whence in the days of political and social convulsions come suddenly the unknown helpers, like rats from their holes?
They are the members of that great mass which is called the people : the disfranchised, the outlawed, the nameless ones, those who never were and suddenly are; a secret disclosed and a shadow turning into substance, the apparently dead coming to life, an ever-disregarded child unexpectedly grown to manhood, — that is the people! It was never taken into calculation, as it had no rights; now it calculates on its own account, and its numbers are crushing You liars who became great in its name, who committed the crimes of your power behind its cloak, how you have suddenly been swept away!
You deceived, betrayed, and sold it; it was a word, a phantom, a nothing, which you manipulated at your own will and pleasure; and now it suddenly rises before you! Bodily before you! As ever before, so in this year the bourgeoisie and its government met the unemployed with indifference, ignorance, and hard-heartedness. When the sight of them daily began to become uncomfortable, it called its police to drive them from the Square.
They went to Hyde Park; they were permitted to return to the Square, to be again brutally dispersed. Whoever by long waiting and a more reckless use of his fists and elbows succeeded in forcing his way to the front and securing a job, was helped for one day. But comparatively — how few were these!
What of it that they were starving by day and freezing by night, silently in their remote corners and holes, where no one either saw or heard; but so to hurt the aesthetic, tender feelings of good society by the daily exhibition of all this misery and filth, what insolence! It was on a Sunday — the one before the last of this cheerless and gloomy month — that Trupp determined to devote his free afternoon to an attempt to get a more correct picture of the extent and the significance of these gatherings than he was able to form from the accounts of his comrades and fellow-workmen in the shop.
At about noon he had been at Clerkenwell Green, the old-time meeting-place of so many parties and years, and had there listened with indignation to the latter portion of the speeches, and was now going with an exceptionally large procession of unemployed, headed by a red flag, down the Strand towards Trafalgar Square. He still had work — for how long, of course, he did not know. Certainly more than a hundred thousand, and if you count the women and children, still more!
Half a million! The people who meet on Trafalgar Square form only a small part, and of those a fifth consists of professional beggars and tramps, of pickpockets and idlers, and has nothing to do with the unemployed, who only want honest work. Yesterday again we called on the Board of Works. Where the money goes, I should like to know! The last time, till two months ago, I worked in a canning factory, made tin boxes — every day twelve hours, never less, but often fourteen. For some time Trupp had been living at the East End.
He knew the wages of the English workingmen. He knew families of eight persons who together did not earn more than twelve shillings a week, of which they had to pay four for their hole of a room He knew that among the women and girls who make match-boxes and bags a perpetual famine was raging. He himself earned more. He was a very well-informed and competent mechanic, whose work required good judgment. From childhood he had grown to manhood in this immense misery, the sight of which had never forsaken him in any country, in any city.
But what he saw in London of mad luxury on the one side, and hopeless misery on the other, surpassed everything. He drew from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper, which he suddenly remembered, and hastily scanned it while walking on.
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Four millions of people in Great Britain dependent on charity Your own thoughtlessness and cowardice, — these are your worst enemies. There was none among those who, in the irresistible tide of the procession, had heard and understood these simple words who had not assented to them; but, silently, worn out, and infirm of will, they all bore their gnawing hunger past the exhibitions of superfluity. None of these hands which had always toiled for others only, which had always filled the pockets of others only, and which, themselves empty, were forever to remain empty, was now stretched out to take back a small, an insignificantly small, part of what was being withheld from them.
Silently and without confidence they were moving on, down the long thoroughfares of wealth, — they who had been robbed of everything, and left with nothing; left with not a foot of soil, with not one of the boasted rights of man, with not even the most necessary means of support, as a terrible arraignment of all the institutions of an earthly justice, as an unavoidable, unanswerable denial of the existence of a divine justice, — and they, they were described as a disgrace of their age, they who were only the victims of the disgrace of their age.
Such was the impenetrable confusion of ideas at the close of the nineteenth century, and the guilty believed to escape their guilt by sophistically confounding cause and effect of the prevailing conditions. The throng seemed to grow greater and greater the nearer it came to Trafalgar Square. Trupp and the workingman with whom he had been talking were still marching side by side. But they no longer talked. Each was occupied with his own thoughts.
The words of the former had been heard, and he noticed how they were being discussed. They force our wages down. But it did not lessen his pain and his bitterness when he recalled who it really was that came from Germany to England. He knew those multitudes whom not only the hope of better wages, but also the hope of a freer and truer life, compelled to leave their country; for how was it possible for them to live under the constant pressure of a mad law — the disgraceful law, as popular opinion named it — which presumed to murder thought, to stifle speech, and to keep watch over every movement?
When the procession reached the Square, Trupp was surprised to see the great crowds already assembled there. The large, broad space of the interior was almost filled by a surging mass, and in all the surrounding streets the traffic of wagons and people seemed to be as great as on week days. The approaching procession was received with stormy shouts. He saw the files of men entering the Square, saw the man who was carrying the red flag, with several others mounting the pedestal of the Nelson Column, and a hundred-headed crowd gathering round the next moment, attentively listening to the words of a speaker.
He had secured a standing-place a little above the crowd, on the street leading to St. So he could see the pedestal of the column, which was densely crowded. He saw the violent gesticulations of the speakers, the waving of the red flag, and the black helmets of the police, who in large numbers had taken their position directly below the speakers. Suddenly he saw a tremendous commotion arising in the crowd that occupied the Square; a cry of terror and of indignation from a thousand throats at once broke into the air, and like a mighty, dark billow, the crowd surged back, far overflowing the steps on the north side and the streets The police, with their whole force, had suddenly and without warning made an attack on the quietly listening meeting, and were now recklessly driving the screaming crowd before their closed ranks.
Trupp felt a frightful rage rising within him. This cold and deliberate brutality made his blood boil. He crossed the street and stood by the stone enclosure of the place; beneath him lay the Square already half emptied. With blows and kicks the police were driving the defenceless ones before them. Whoever made the least show of resistance was pulled down and led away. A young man had escaped from their hands. In mad haste he sought to gain the exit of the place.
But those stationed there pulled him instantly down, while the scattered crowd outside accompanied this act of repulsive brutality with exclamations of contempt and rage. As Trupp saw this, he jumped with one leap over the wall which was still several yards high at this place — it slopes gradually from the north to the south. He hurried to the pedestal of the column, on which several of the speakers were still standing. The flag-bearer had placed himself against the column and held the flag with both hands.
He was evidently determined to yield only to the most extreme force. Now the police again slowly drew back to the column and again took up their position there; and the crowd followed them from all sides and all the entrances of the Square. In a few minutes the entire area was again covered by a dark sea of humanity, whose indignation had increased, whose calls for the continuation of the speech had grown more impatient, whose excitement had become more intense.
Again the pedestal of the column was occupied: people mutually lifted and pulled each other up. Before the flag stood a young man of about thirty years. He was one of the best speakers and very well known among the unemployed. He was deathly pale with excitement, and looked with an expression of implacable hatred down upon the forms of the policemen at his feet. One of the constables shouted up to the speakers that on the first incendiary word he should arrest each one of them on the spot.
Trupp was standing just before the line of policemen, so near that he was almost forced by the thronging multitude to touch them. It seemed at first as if the police intended to make a fresh attack in consequence of this outbreak of the feelings of the multitude. But they refrained, and the speaker began. He spoke on the right of free speech in England, and on its attempted suppression, which had so far remained unsuccessful. He saw before him a throng such as Trafalgar Square had not held that year.
They had not broken a window, and had not taken a piece of bread to appease their hunger; whoever said so was a liar. Beside Trupp was standing the reporter of a newspaper, who was laboriously jotting down cipher notes. Disgusted, he tried to force his way through the crowd surrounding him. He could proceed only step by step. The assembly no longer consisted exclusively of the unemployed: mixed up with them was the riffraff of London that gathers on all occasions in incredibly large numbers, many curious ones who wished to see what would happen, and a number of really interested persons.
An indignant muttering rose, while he looked over the surrounding crowd with his impudent smile. The crowd scattered, and an empty space quickly rose round the chastised offender, who already felt no longer like smiling. The police came forward, although they had not seen anything of the incident. Trupp had been carried away with the crowd; he was now standing on the east side of the Square.
Meantime the other three sides of the column had also become covered with people, and the meeting was being addressed by some of their numbers. Some things that were said had no bearing on the purpose of the meeting, and the voice of many a speaker was more expressive of his self-complacency and of the childish pleasure he took in his own words than of the indignation over the conditions which he was to criticise, and of the endeavor to arouse this same indignation in the hearts of his hearers and to fan it into a flame.
With an angry smile Trupp was watching one of those violently gesticulating professional popular speakers, who, with tiresome verbosity, was telling the starving Londoners of their starving comrades in India, and recounting the atrocities committed by the English government in that unhappy land, instead of revealing to them the equally arbitrary acts of the same government by which they were condemned to suffer and slowly to die. Loud laughter and jeers, however, suddenly caused him to transfer his attention from the speaker to one of those pitiable fanatics who believe they have a mission at all such gatherings to lead the misguided people back into the lap of the infallible Church; to sustain the poor in their trials and troubles, and the rich in their pleasures.
Trupp looked at the black-coated man curiously. The closely shaved sallow face, the cowardly look of the eyes, and the honeyed tone of the drawling voice would have been repulsive to him, even if the man had not stood in the service of what he hated, because he saw in it the chief agency for keeping the people in ignorance and mental slavery. But the words of the missionary were received only with scorn and laughter. From all sides his voice was drowned by loud cries.
But he let everything pass over him and drawled out his carefully committed phrases, to which nobody paid heed, as calmly and monotonously as if the whole affair did not concern him at all. He was pushed from the spot where he was standing. Hardly had he gained a foothold again when he continued with his speech. The conduct of this new Christ was at once ridiculous and pitiable. Suddenly an admirably well-aimed egg was hurled at the speaker — a rotten, pasty mass closed his mouth with a clapping sound.
That was too much for even this martyr. He no longer held his ground. Soiled from top to toe, spitting and rapidly ducking his head, he slipped through the crowd standing round, followed by the coarse laughter of the excited and screaming people. Trupp shrugged his shoulders.
He wished the mouth of every corrupter of the people and falsifier of truth might be closed in an equally drastic manner. He turned away and allowed the swarm to carry him past the fountains, whose dirty water-basins were strewn with refuse of every kind, back again to the north side. There also, holding themselves by the lantern posts of the broad railing, a number of speakers were shouting their excited, jumbled, and exciting phrases down to the crowd far beneath them in the Square.
One of them seemed familiar to Trupp. He remembered having seen him in the meetings of the Social Democratic Federation. He was a party Socialist. Trupp listened. Again he did not understand everything, but from disjointed catchwords he could infer that he was speaking of the rapid development of capitalistic exploitation, of the ever more threatening bread riots incident to it, of the uselessness of the means employed for their suppression, and that he was attacking that old superstition which, first put forth by a prejudiced mind, has since taken such deep root, — that it is the insufficiency of the means of subsistence which necessitates the misery of certain classes.
Then he passed to the familiar theories — holding the balance between Social Democratic and Communistic ideas — of the distribution of goods of which there is a superabundance: all in sentences whose separate words, by the repetitions of many years, seemed as if cast in brass and to have turned into mere phrases. The effect, however, was small.
There were but few who followed every word or who were even able to follow. The majority allowed themselves to be driven from one place to another by the incessant commotion which swayed them to and fro as the wind sways the grass of the field. The voices of the speakers tried in vain, for the most part, to struggle against the roar. Around the benches on the north side of the Square a boisterous lot of children had gathered: street Arabs who at every hour of the day flood the principal streets of London by hundreds — cast out by their parents, if they still have any, and pushed on by the dreaded fist of the policeman.
Laughing and screaming, they were standing and jumping about the dirty and battered benches. One little fellow held himself for a minute on the back of one of them: with comical gravity he imitated the movements of the speaker, and screamed senseless words to the throng. His dirty, prematurely old face was radiant with pleasure. Then he was pulled down by his exulting comrades. Trupp smiled again, but bitterly.
This little scene seemed like the most cutting satire on the most serious business. He looked at the dirty, vicious faces of those standing round him; wherever he looked: misery, hunger, and depravity. And they were his brothers. He felt as if he belonged to them all; inseparably bound together with them by a common fate. Above Trafalgar Square lay a monotonous gray, heavy, sunless sky.
This cold dome seemed farther away than usual. Again a great commotion surged through the masses from the foot of the Nelson Column. Evidently it was being deserted. Over the dark sea of heads the red flag could be seen turning in the direction of Westminster. And without a word having been said, thousands followed it of their own accord. The separate individuals formed and condensed themselves into one immense serpent. So it moved down Whitehall, past the seats of so many magistrates, past the historical memorials whose bloody traces had been washed away by time from the stones of this famous street, past the two sentinels of the Horse Guards, who in their ostentatious uniforms and on their well-fed horses were keeping watch over the entrances of that low structure; and up through the crowds of spectators on both sides, who followed the strange procession as soon as it had gone by In the midst of the ranks walked Trupp.
His pulses beat somewhat faster as he felt himself drawn away and down by the currents of this day. The towers of Parliament House rose ever more distinctly and impressively out of the fine mist. Then suddenly Westminster Abbey lay before the countless multitude that was irresistibly pouring itself upon its doors. Trupp made an attempt to get a view of the head of the procession beyond the black hats that surrounded him. If it would only come to a crisis! But quietly he saw the red flag turn away from the main entrance and pass around the corner: the procession followed it in closed rank and file.
All kinds of exclamations were heard about him. He did not know what it all meant. And suddenly he found himself — the procession had to gain admission through the eastern entrance — in the great silence of those vast walls which were filled with the dust of ages and consecrated, with the glory of centuries He saw the busts and read the names which he did not know. What were they? And what were they to him? He knew only one English poet, and his name he did not find, — Percy Bysshe Shelley. He had loved liberty. Therefore he loved him and read him, even where he did not understand him.
He did not know that English narrow-mindedness and illiberality had distinguished him, like Byron, by obstinately denying him the honor of a place in this half-lighted corner among so much genuine genius and so much false greatness. Divine service was being held. From the middle of the space, as from a great distance, came the gloomy, monotonous, half-singing voice of a clergyman, who continued his sermon after an imperceptible interruption in consequence of the unexpected intrusion, thus again quieting the congregation, his frightened audience Trupp did not understand a word.
The crowd around him exhaled a pungent odor of sweat and dust. They became more excited after the great feeling which had overpowered them on their entrance had again disappeared. Some had kept their hats on; a few others, who had removed theirs, now put them on again.
Some climbed on the pews and looked over the rest. Only a few low words fell upon the grand sublimity of this silence. Trupp sat down. In spite of himself he was seized by a strange, inexplicable feeling, such as he had not experienced in a long — in an indefinitely long — time The more we are hedged in by space, the more we suffer when the wings of our thoughts beat against its walls until they bleed; the farther it circles around us, the more we forget it and all its limits.
Trupp looked down, and for half an hour forgot entirely where he was. His whole life rose before him again. But the embrace of this memory was not gentle and consoling as that of a mother to whom her son returns, but violent, relentless, crushing, as must be the fatal kiss of a vampire!
His whole life! He was now a man of thirty-five, in the zenith of his life, in the full possession of his strength. He sees his childhood again, — the starved, joyless years of his childhood, as the son of a day-laborer in a dirty village on the flats of Saxony; the father a numbskull; the mother a quarrelsome woman, forever dissatisfied, from whom he inherited his iron energy and uncontrollable passion; with whom he was in continual conflict, until one day, after a frightful scene in which his ripening sense of justice had rebelled against her groundless accusations and complaints, he ran away from her — the father never being considered He sees himself again as a fifteen-year-old, neglected boy, without a penny, wandering from place to place for two days; he feels the ravenous hunger again which finally, after two days, gave him the courage to beg a piece of bread in a farmhouse; and again the dejected despair which finally drove him — it was on the morning of the third day, a wet, cold, autumn morning how well he remembered that morning!
It was in the vicinity of Chemnitz. He enters a blacksmith shop. The boss laughs and examines the muscles of his arm. He can stay, he may sit down to breakfast, a thick, tasteless soup, which the journeymen ate sullenly, but which he devours greedily. The others make fun of his hunger; but never had ridicule disturbed him less. Then, with mad zeal, with burning pleasure and love for all things, he works and studies. Days, weeks, months, pass on Nobody concerns himself about him. He does not know what to do.
Once he gets hold of a book and then spells out sentence after sentence. He has found it in a corner of his garret. Somebody must have forgotten it there. He does not understand a word of it. But one day the boss sees him bent over the soiled leaves, and tears them out of his hands and boxes his ears. He cannot imagine what bad thing it is that he has done. That is twenty years ago So he forms his first friendship. There he read the descriptions, collected from all sources, of hostile antagonisms: the hate-filled accounts of insolent revelry, of brutal heartlessness, of shameful arrogance on the one side, the passionate portrayals of despairing poverty, of deceived labor, and of down-trodden weakness on the other, the radically opposite side; and his young heart bubbled over with pain and indignation.
Hate and love divided it forever: hate of the former, and love for those who were suffering like him. Mankind soon resolved itself into bourgeoisie and workingmen, and soon he saw in the former nothing but calculating rogues and lazy exploiters; in the latter, only victims, the nobler the more unfortunate they were Years pass by.
When at the age of nineteen he leaves the gloomy, cheerless city, he has advanced far enough by dint of hard work in the evening hours to read fluently and to write correctly, if not easily. He is a journeyman. His certificate is excellent. Every fibre of his being urges him to travel.
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