Read CHAPTER VIII - The Rogues’ Gallery of An Anarchist Woman , free online book, by Hutchins Hapgood, on ReadCentral.com.

“My terrible experiences during these months,” continued Marie, “had at least the advantage of bringing me nearer to him who was and is the inspirer of whatever is worthy or good in me. It helped me to appreciate him, and surely everything I suffered, everything I may still suffer, is not too much to pay for that. He has made for me an ideal, and, without that, life is but a sorry, sorry thing. During those wild months I, of course, thought little of those things, those wonderful new things which I had heard of from him, but now, when we were living quietly with our anarchist friends, and the surroundings were in harmony with the mood for thought, my interest awakened. I read a great deal and listened attentively to the talk of the people around me, and slowly my ideas became more and more clear.

“It took a long time for me to learn, to really understand what the others were interested in. I did not dare to ask Terry too many questions, especially there, where everybody admired him and looked up to him so. A new shyness came over me when I began to see him in the light of a philosopher and a poet. He seemed so far above me and I felt myself so small and unworthy. But it was not long before I really began to feel a strong interest in all that was said, in all these social theories, in these ideas about the prolétaire, about art and literature; and I began to read books in a far different spirit from what I used I began to see in them truth about life, and to love this truth, whatever it was. And I loved the freedom of the talk, and, above all, I loved the feeling that from the highest point of view I was not an outcast, and that the people who seemed to me the best did not so regard me. It helped to give me the self-respect which every human being needs, I think.

“I thought for a long time that I was very lucky indeed to get admitted into this atmosphere. And, indeed, I know I was lucky, but there came a time when, for a while, I was very unhappy, not in the society of the radicals I always loved that but among these particular people, because they could not, after all, rid themselves of some conservative prejudices. After a while I began to see that even those enlightened people really had contempt for what I had been, or for my ignorance, perhaps for both.

“This family, with whom we were staying, was supposed to have broad and liberal ideas, and its members prided themselves on the fact that they really put their theories into practice. Their home was run on a sort of communistic basis, and the men and women who lived there were not tied to each other by any legal bonds, for they believed in freedom of love. They never made much noise about their ideas, or rather their practice, and were what you might call refined or cultured anarchists.

“Terry and I had nothing in a worldly way, and we lived there on ‘charity,’ so to speak, though that word was, of course, never used. We did, however, what work there was to be done in the household, trying in this way to give some compensation in return for a bed to sleep on and the simple food necessary to keep our bodies alive.

“Now, after a while, I began to feel crushed, oppressed in this home, among these cold, cold, refined people, although they were anarchists. They could not help showing me their contempt: they made me feel inferior. They never said one word that indicated such a feeling, but I could feel it by their attitude, by the attitude even of the little child in the house. They looked upon me much in the same way as my former mistress used, when I was the servant in the house, except that they were bound by their theories to give me a nominal respect and to try charitably to improve my mind and make of me a philosophical anarchist.

“It was painful to me to see these people, who were so humane, who could not bear to see the lowly oppressed, who could not bear to have injustice done, to see these people pass me by in insulting silence, look at me with cold, unsympathetic eyes! How it hurt me, not to receive the word of encouragement from the kind look of people I looked up to! So I crawled into my shell and did not go about much with the others. I think I was forgotten by nearly everybody for days at a time. Terry shared the room with me, and brought me food, as I grew more and more unable to eat with the cold superior ones. He brought me tobacco, too, and here it was, sitting all day alone, that I began the cigarette habit: if it had not been for that, I think I should have gone mad.

“I never ceased to love Terry, but I had a bitter feeling against him, too. He was always kind and good to me, but he spent most of his time with his intellectual friends, and I began to feel that even he was being ‘charitable’ to me. So after much misery and despair, I accepted a proposal of marriage from a friend of my wild days and fled with him to St. Louis. He took me to the home of his sisters and parents, where I lived in peace and quiet for three weeks, recovered some of my health and strength, and was able to review my past and think of my future; and reflect on my coming marriage.

“The people I was with now were kind and sympathetic. They did not know about my past life only my prospective husband knew he, of course, knew all. The others thought I was a poor shop-girl, tired and overworked. They were refined people, fairly well-to-do, rather bourgeois, but with good hearts, and so innocent that they believed everything their son told them, and received me as a daughter and sister.

“Perhaps my nature is perverse, I don’t know; but as soon as I got a little rest and peace, I began to think of what I had left and especially of Terry. It was not only my love for him that called, but what my life with him had been and would be if I returned a life that was not a commonplace life, a life of intelligence and freedom. Already I was bored by the quiet goodness of the people I was with, and I wanted ‘something doing’!

“I saw Terry again as I had seen him first, with the glamour of ardent love, the love that overleaps all barriers and, if only for an instant, stands face to face with love, unhesitating, tumultuous, and triumphant. The memory of even one perfect moment can never leave us, even if life be ever so dark and harsh and bitter, there will always be that single ray of light to illumine the darkness, and keep our steps from utter and complete stumbling.

“I thought of Terry day and night, and grew so melancholy that my new found friends were alarmed and suggested hastening the marriage, in order to let me go South with my husband. This alarmed me terribly and I begged that no such step should be taken. With much inward trembling, I proposed that the marriage should be postponed and that I return to Chicago. They would not listen to this, and I could see in their honest faces the deepest amazement and a kind of suspicion. So I took refuge in tears, pleading ill-health and offering no more suggestions.

“That same day I wrote Terry a long letter, in which I told him that I still loved him, could not forget him, but had taken this step in desperation because I could no longer endure living among these people in Chicago, his friends, but not mine; that here in St. Louis I had found a certain measure of peace and quiet which had lately been disturbed by the realisation that soon I must decide to take a step which would perhaps separate us two irrevocably, that I longed more than words could tell to see him, to look into his face. I could never go back, I wrote, to that life I had been living, because what I had learned from him of what life is and what makes it worth living, had made that thing impossible for me. So, I wrote, I could not go back, and how, without him, could I go forward? So here I was, weak, perplexed, and I begged him to write me, to advise me what to do.

“Very soon his reply came the truest, kindest reply that I could have received. He too had suffered since I left him, and comprehended only too well why I had done as I did. Our suffering would help us to gain a more comprehensive knowledge of life and of each other. And if I still loved him, I should follow the inclination of my heart and return to him. We two might start out again, wiser and surer for what had passed. He assured me of his love, but warned me not to expect too much from him, that our material comforts would be few, for he was as poor as I, and however much he might wish to provide better, he knew that, for one reason or another, he could not. But if I would be content to share his crust and his love, much happiness and joy might be in store for us. He finished his letter with a quotation from Browning’s ‘Lost Leader’:

’Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a ribbon to tie in his coat.’

“My hesitation disappeared at once, although it hurt me greatly to carry out my resolution to return to Chicago. It cost me many a pang to shock and hurt the dear good people, to seem so ungrateful for all their love and kindness. But it had to be. I could not do otherwise. I returned to Chicago two days after receiving the letter, and my lover and I met and clasped hands and gazed into one another’s eyes. We were reunited, or rather united truly, for the first time, with better understanding on both sides.

“Since that day, now six years ago, we have travelled the rough road together, assisting one another as best we could, often stumbling and misunderstanding and hurting one another, for we continually tried to get deeper and deeper into real knowledge, real life, and it is hard to reconcile all things. Generally to gain much, one must compromise, but Terry and I did not wish to compromise. His and mine has been a difficult and dangerous relation, but an interesting one. Very soon after my return to Chicago, I felt much more at ease, no longer a stumbling-block in his way; and I gained confidence, strength, and knowledge. I met many people of the true communistic spirit, and by social intercourse with them developed in every way. I continued to read good books and attended lectures on the social problems of the day. So after a time I became what is called an anarchist, just as Terry was.

“The reasons my books and companions brought forward for the justification of anarchism were like meat and drink to me. I was filled with enthusiasm for the ideas of a freedom which I now think is perhaps impossible in our society. But I thought that the ‘downtrodden,’ the ‘working classes,’ held the fate of the world in their hands, if they could but realise it. As time passed, my enthusiasm waned, for I began to see many difficulties in the way of this beautiful idealism. At times, I even doubted if the ‘mob’ were worthy of liberty at all. Such thoughts, however, passed away whenever I saw the crowds of workers streaming from the factories and stores, and looked upon their loutish, brutal faces, wherein there was never a gleam of pride, of the joy of creation, of intelligent effort. Then I would think, surely, surely, humankind is not meant to be thus. Why, even the little birds, the tiny little ants, what intelligence they display in their work; little kittens and dogs playing in the streets, what unrestrained joy is theirs! Work ought to be a pleasure and a blessing: and it would be so if we could only choose our labour, if we could create, do those things for which we are fitted, voluntarily, because of the need within us, for the outward expression of our life, our hope and joy. So, work would cease to be the curse it is to-day.

“And surely if we were free men and women, we would find our place in the scheme of things, surely each one of us would seek the place suited to his individual nature, and so perhaps at last everything would be a part of the harmonious whole.

“When I think of things as they are and as they might be, I grow dizzy and sick at heart, that mankind can be so blind, so hopelessly ignorant, so unspeakably cruel, so weak and cowardly. I am only a novice, I know, and there is so much for me to know, to learn, to strive for much that I, and hundreds and thousands of others, will never reach, for we are burdened with heavy chains which we cannot break. Yet, there must be somewhere on this big earth, some little place fitted for me, some small corner where I must be of some value to myself.

“To you, no doubt, my sufferings and struggles will seem petty and my ideas crude and commonplace; but, if so, the pity is all the greater. After the agony I went through, freedom seemed to me the noblest thing in the world, and I thought it the solution of everything. Since then my ideas, perhaps, have become somewhat less ‘crude,’ but I have never for a moment lost faith in the thought that freedom is the most essential, the most necessary condition for us, if we are to endure life.”

It is certainly what Marie calls “crude” to talk of liberty without careful definition. Absolute freedom is inconceivable. But I am not interested in presenting an argument: I am interested in the description of a state of mind, of a section of society, of a certain emotional view of things. The value, however, of these general ideas is undoubted, in the spiritual improvement and moral comfort of thousands of people. I think that Marie and Terry and the other characters that will appear in this book are decidedly better off for the ideas they hold: that about these ideas, or rather ideals, perhaps, they have grouped a society in which they are not outcasts, in which their lives seem from some points of view justified. And even in my opinion, though I live in different circumstances, and see greater difficulties in the way of the realisation of any social ideal than they do, yet I feel that their way of looking at things is useful to the larger society of men, ultimately. And, I, like other people, have deep respect for a consistent and courageous life, based upon a principle or principles which I may not hold myself.

The next scene in the life of Marie and Terry took place in what they called “The Rogues’ Gallery.” This was during the time that Terry held a position in the Prudential Insurance Company, whose employ he left, as we have seen, in order to go to Pittsburg, to find the flaw in the tannery process, at his brother Jim’s request. He hired three little rooms, and up to the time he went to Pittsburg, he welcomed to his home everybody who was “against” things. Later on, he became more particular in his associates that is to say, he demanded of them something more than mere disreputability, to use the conventional word. But at that time he loved everything that the world hated or cast out. That was his principle of action, his norm of judgment. Seeking the truth with undivided passion, he rid himself at a later time, at least partially, of this prejudice, and became quite able to “pass up,” as he calls it, that is reject, a human being even though he might be a thief, a practical anarchist, a prostitute, or a souteneur. But at the time of the existence of the Rogues’ Gallery he loved everything rejected by society, without making too nice a use of his natural taste.

There, in those three little slum rooms, gathered a strange society a society held together on the basis of its utter rejection of the larger society of men. To be an acceptable member of this society, the individual must in some way be a social rebel either practically or theoretically, or both. When Terry saw in some being rejected by society a spark of thought or of feeling, he was excited and happy. It was obvious to him, as to all persons who think and have practical contact with many different kinds of people, that there are in life no heroes and no villains; it was obvious that in the lowest thief or prostitute there was that possibility of light and spiritual grace which all true souls desire. Terry’s function was to make them conscious of this; to organise, so to speak, the outcasts upon a philosophic and aesthetic basis and so save them to themselves, at least.

This was his great experiment with Marie, about which a large part of this book is to be concerned. But this interest, this effort, extended itself to many other individuals, and whenever Terry could feel himself in contact with what he felt was essentially human, and, at the same time, to his sense beautiful, he was filled, as I have said, with that deep excitement of pleasure, which was both intellectual and moral. I remember, one day, he said to me: “How often, during the lifetime of the Rogues’ Gallery, did I saunter down State Street with the pleasing knowledge that I would find some ‘low’ person, girl or man, whom I knew I could get at, who would strip himself or herself bare to me in a spiritual sense, and would be revealed disinterestedly, would have no axe to grind and no contemptible small ends to gain, and no tradesman’s commercial morality and no grafting conventionality, no moral cant based on self-interest some being so near the ‘limit’ that he was intellectually and morally fearless and did not need to pose, from whom some truth could be derived, whose sincerity and power of straight-seeing was not warped and concealed by any bourgeois ambitions, by any respectability.”

From time to time Terry would take one of these beings home with him to his Rogues’ Gallery and to Marie and to the other intimates, mainly more or less self-conscious anarchists, all or nearly all derelicts of the labouring class. There they could stay as long as they aesthetically fitted, could share the communal cigarette, beds, beer, and food. And Terry and Marie and their friends would talk and read aloud Terry the teacher, giving transcendental light into the nature of the good, the beautiful, and the true. Many an outcast here came first to a pleasing sense that from some points of view he was not altogether bad, nay, that he had unexpectedly good points. Many of them to some philosophic intensity; conversation became a joy, strangely unknown hitherto. The educational character of this meeting place was marked, but, as I have said, Terry’s indiscriminating passion for the outcasts of the prolétaire limited the intellectual development of his little society. At a later time, a much more developed society grew around Terry and Marie, as we shall see, when we get to the Anarchist salon, or the intellectual drawing room of the Anarchist Prolétaire.

Terry’s main effort was, at this time, and for years afterwards, naturally directed toward Marie’s spiritual education. Hitherto Marie has revealed herself to the reader as a rather commonplace, very physical, rather lazy, and quite egoistic person, one of many, with no distinguished characteristics. But she was unusually endowed in some ways. Eminently plastic, up to a certain point she rapidly assumed forms suggested by Terry’s spiritual touch. She derived from him her interest in all high things, in philosophy, art and literature, but there always remained an interesting distinction in the way she reacted to her education. Terry remained always the rather transcendental philosopher, with a predominant ethical sense. Marie, as she developed, showed a deeper and subtler feeling for expression and a surer sensing of human character, a juster psychology. Her nature is essentially less beautiful, by far, than that of Terry, but more real, in a way, more robust, and so constituted that in a long spiritual conflict she would wear out the finer qualities of her lover. But this is anticipating, except in so far as it is true that from the start Marie’s psychological vividness showed itself, often, of course, with base and physical concomitants. In this connection I will quote a letter which well illustrates this side of her character, and which also shows a contrast to some of her loftier but more conventional and less true qualities. She had been attending an anarchists’ ball and she wrote:

“I danced a great deal and felt very happy, without the aid of any stimulant either. I did not have any feeling of irritation or even indifference toward anybody, not even toward Rose. I am fascinated by Rose, and I sometimes think I hate her. I always like to be near her when there is no one else around. She reveals herself to me then; in fact quite throws off the mask which all women wear. In order to encourage her to do this, I apparently throw down my own mask. Oh, how I gloat over her then, when she shows me a side of her life and betrays secret thoughts and feelings to me half unconsciously! Sometimes I succeed in having her do this when there is a third person present, and the look of hatred which passes across her face when she perceives she has made a mistake, is a most interesting thing to see. But she immediately comes to my side and we kiss each other and call each other ‘angel girls’ and ‘darlings.’ Thus we play with each other, and it is a stand-off which is cleverest. She is quite puzzled sometimes by my frankness about some things, for instance, about her looks. I notice she compliments me on my looks whenever I am decidedly off colour, when I wear a green ribbon, or a dowdy dress, or big shoes. But I am honest with her in these things, and I like to see her look well. The game is more interesting then.

“Well, at this ball, I wanted to dance with a certain man, but I did not wish to ask him myself. So I requested Rose to do so, and she consented, and I was soon whirling around in his arms. I had felt curious about him for a long time: I did not know just what the state of my feeling toward him was. I did not know whether I liked or disliked him, but I had often experienced a sort of thrilling sensation when he happened to pass by or touch me, or even when he mentioned my name, which had occurred only once since I knew him. ‘Good evening, Marie,’ was all he said. But the name and the way he said it seemed new, and it kept recurring to me at unexpected times and always troubled me. When I fancy I hear that name in his voice I feel sad and lonely, and my heart aches. I see him often, mostly at our Sunday evening lectures. We are very distant, and I am often rude to him, not answering when he speaks to me.

“So when I danced with him the other night, I was agreeably surprised to find that I did not experience any unusual sensation at all. And I was relieved, too, for I had a sort of instinctive feeling that he was not worthy of any strong interest. After the dance was over, we went down-stairs together and he kissed me. You know, the radicals all kiss one another freely and it does not mean anything special, as a rule: often it is done without any feeling at all, just a common habit. But this time I was astonished to find that the moment he touched me I had the same thrilling sensation, only more intense, as when I heard him speak my name. I resisted however, and just then I heard Rose’s voice ring out exultantly, ’Oh, if you knew how crazy Marie is about you, how she raved when she first met you and so on.’ You can imagine how I felt then. I managed to get away and drank and smoked and danced all the evening and never looked at him again. When we all went away Rose and I kissed each other and called each other ‘darling girl.’

“In some moods I would like to be a big, beautiful, heartless woman like one or two I know. In such moods, how I would make men suffer! I was talking about this to little Sadie the other day, and she assured me solemnly that she would do that when she was thirty, but not merely to make men suffer, but to develop them.”

As Terry continued to read aloud and talk in his Rogues’ Gallery, Marie grew to reflect more and more the results of the reading of good things, and of the thinking and talking about these things. It shows how some temperaments are able to connect literature and philosophy with life, and thereby see their real meaning, quite independently of any merely conventional culture or education. One of the greatest prejudices of our time (and of all times) is the belief that intellectual culture, which is merely the perception in detail of how life and thought is expressed in form, is peculiarly dependent upon academic or conventional education. And yet, of course, somewhere or other, the nature capable of understanding form must come in contact with it, before the meaning of the whole thing is incorporated into its daily habit. Terry was Marie’s point of contact with form, in its deep relation to life. Marie felt this and loved him and was grateful, to the depths of her nature, so different from his, so animal, so unideal, in comparison! She wrote:

“Terry gave me a new way to express myself, and that, after all, is the only thing worth living for. And he gave me this new way without trying to make me give up any other way of self expression, my sensuality, for example. This sensuality I have sometimes regretted, but not directly through Terry’s influence, except that he has shown me the beauty of something else. He is a winged thing in comparison with me, but he is so wonderfully tolerant that he can see beauty in even the baser part of my nature. Why should I regret what I am, anyway? I believe that the only purity that means anything is that which results from working one’s nature out harmoniously, not suppressing it. Terry must be a wonderful man, to have been able to encourage me in many new directions, and to take away the maiming sting of regret for what I inevitably was and could not help being.

“I do not think an ordinary person could have made me see the beauty of anarchism. I know that the anarchistic ideas are rather shocking, even at their best, and of course they naturally appeal most to the man with the hoe, inciting him to rebel, while the man behind the idea is usually endowed with so much sensitiveness that he shrinks from the rebellion part of the programme himself; he is not a man of action, only a man of ideas. It is shameful, some think, to disturb the blissful ignorance of the man with the hoe, for when the gleam of intelligence shines in his eye and he is aroused to the knowledge of his degrading position, he is likely to rebel in the most healthy but brutal manner, so much so that the aesthetic reformer shrinks back from the consequences of the propagation of his own ideas. Of course, the brutality of the proletariat is not nearly so subtle as that of the aristocracy, and it takes some cleverness to discover that the latter is brutality at all. It requires time and patience to drive into the thick heads of the workers that they are downtrodden, and that their oppressors are worthless parasites. When they finally do awaken to this idea and rebel, how terribly shocked the world is because these brutes have not the cleverness or delicacy to be more subtle in their brutalities.

“In your last letter you wrote of the crudeness of most propagandists of anarchism, naming Anatole France as one of the rare anarchists who express themselves otherwise than crudely. He rarely or never, you say, ever mentions the word ‘anarchism,’ although much of his writing is calculated to destroy belief in the value of organised society as it now exists. Don’t you think you are perhaps prejudiced too much against certain words because of their associations? I know that many words are objectionable to refined, cultured people because they have been so long associated with the coarse and brutal mob, the working class, as the socialists would say. But you must remember that anarchism is intended to appeal to this ‘mob’ especially; that its doctrines might not be needed by refined people who ought to have enough sensibility not to enjoy ‘freedom’ unless it is shared by the coarse and brutal workers. Believe me, there is nothing so degrading as poverty. It makes the slave more slavish and the brute more brutal. It acts like a goad, spurring people on to do things which make them seem to themselves and others lower and lower, until they are truly no longer human beings but animals.

“Therefore it is that the propaganda of anarchism is generally crude. It is true that much good literature is permeated with the ideals of anarchism, for instance, Shelley, Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson. Such reading is excellent as a means of humanising and making anarchists of refined people, but how could you appeal to the rebellious workers with such books as these? For instance, my father, do you think he could read Ibsen or any of the others? Indeed not; but let him go to a meeting where he can hear Emma Goldman speak, or let him read Jean Grave, or Bakunin, or some other writer of ‘crude’ pamphlets, and he might become interested, he might be able to understand. But since it seems that truly refined people cannot enjoy the pleasures of freedom without being, at any rate at times, worried because of the condition of the ‘mass,’ what is to be done? This objectionable crudity must remain until there is a demand for something more subtle on the part of the workers for whom is intended all propaganda. The rich and cultured presumably have brains which they can use to solve the problems for themselves or to digest the things written by Anatole France and others. But how do you suppose that I, for instance, could a few years ago have relished Anatole France? Wouldn’t you think it idiotic for anyone to have given me such books, at that time, with any expectation of my appreciating their refined and evanescent anarchism?”

It must have been a strange sight that of Terry sitting on his dilapidated bed in the Rogues’ Gallery, with his eternal cigarette in his mouth, talking to Marie and perhaps to some prostitute or pickpocket! We begin already to see the result on Marie’s education: that will appear complex and manifold, but it is likely that on many a half-formed creature who afterward passed out of Terry’s life, his words yet made an impression which perhaps in some later darkness revived an idea which explained and justified his miserable existence.