Terry had given Marie life, and she
had finally used this vitality to free herself from
him and his too exigent idealism. The result of
his relation to her seems from this point of view
pathetically ironical; but it is only a symbol of
the ironical pathos of his relation to society in
general; he and his kind act as a stimulant and a tonic
to the society which rejects and crushes them.
The anarchist is in a double sense the victim of society.
He is, in the first place, generally a “labour”
victim, is generally the maimed result of our factory
system; and, in the second place, his philosophy,
needed by society, reacts against himself and turns
the world against him. So he is a double victim,
a reiterated social sacrifice.
When I went to Chicago this last time
I found Terry, as I have said, despondent and disillusioned;
and intensely savage in his rejection, not only of
capitalistic society, but apparently of all society.
In a way, he had left his old moorings, the “proletariat”
no longer appealed to him. This mood was not
a part of his philosophy: it was an expression
of his disappointment, of his disillusionment.
He talked about his own life and Marie’s with
an almost brutal frankness. He seemed to take
a sad pleasure in stripping the illusion of human
worth and beauty to the bare bones. In spite
of his words, in spite of his previous letters, it
seemed clear to me that Marie had not lost her hold
on him entirely, and that he deeply felt her defection.
Through her he had failed socially and personally.
Around her much of his life, intellectual and personal,
had been wound. Lingeringly he talked of her,
of her qualities; he seemed to try to steel himself
against all need of human relation; incidentally he
rejected me and other friends, finding us wanting.
Marie, too, was not perfect, and must be “passed
up”; but his mind rested, in spite of himself,
on this woman and his life with her. Some of
the things he said and wrote to me about this time
indicate his present mood toward me, Marie, the anarchists,
proletariat, and the world in general.
A year or two ago he wrote me:
“No one, very close to me geographically, can
ever get much out of me. This is a family trait
and is too deep for me. So don’t be downcast
if we should ever meet again and you should find me
as stoical as some crustacean of the past. Some
such antediluvian feeling animates me to take advantage
of your distance and clamour up out of the depths.”
He did, indeed, “clamour up
out of the depths” very eloquently, but when
I saw him in Chicago I found that I had somehow “lost
touch,” like the rest of the world, with him.
He felt it and wrote me:
“While you were in Italy, I
sent you a letter in which I represented myself as
one clamouring up out of the depths of his being to
you who might understand. Now I sincerely and
deeply regret having made this attempt with you.
In the same letter I predicted that your return might
find me back in the depths of my being, where I belong.
I regret I did not stay there when you came along.
This feeling is due to no fault of yours or mine;
but points to the fact that I must become still more
exclusive and circumspect.”
Of Marie he wrote: “This
attachment between two human beings is in all circumstances
very terrible. The bond between Marie and myself
was as strong as death, and partly so because of our
great and essential differences. The first night
we spent together struck one of the deep things in
our discord. I was too nervous and sensitive to
touch her that night, and in the morning she bitterly
reproached me. The first book that really aroused
her to the meaning of life was ’Mademoiselle
de Maupin.’ Deeper than this difference
was her galling interference in my affairs which never
prompted me to meddle in hers. And her failure
to appreciate or reciprocate my respect for the integrity
of her personality is the hardest blow she can ever
give to me. I have the same fatal charge to make
against almost all men; the exceptions are so few
and doubtful that I doubt whether I can ever gain from
another that intense receptive attitude which I am
willing to bestow. Fortunately for me, this illusion
that there are such intense perceivers re-creates
itself out of the veriest dust and dross of humanity.
Like Shelley’s ‘Cloud,’ my illusion
may change, but it cannot die. Now I am in a state
of mind when I am willing to let everything go by default everything
except my last illusion, that I can never let myself
out to anyone. To Marie and to you and
one or two others I have been sorely tempted
to lay myself out but not even the moon
can seduce me to reveal myself. My dead and buried
self is my first and last seduction. This is crazy,
of course, but I am heartily sick of all the ‘sense’
I know or can know. I believe, however, that
I have lived so close to the ‘truth’ that
its shadow has been cast over all my life. If,
in the last analysis, all is illusion, I shall stick
to the most powerful one myself. My
feeling for Marie arises largely from the fact that
she is an expression of the irreparable part of my
life of its deepest essence.
“A year ago to-day, on the thirteenth
of August,” he wrote, “occurred my first,
last, and only breakaway from the best pal I have ever
hoped to have, Marie. Now that it has passed,
I see it in its proper proportions, just as if it
had happened to someone else, but to one as near and
dear to me as myself. I have broken away from
the Mob, too. My sympathy for what is called
the People has been worn down to a mere thread that
might easily be broken and turn me against them.
When one has been stoned long enough, one may easily
turn into something as hard as stone itself.
I am like the knight of old, turned inside out.
I am developing a coating of internal mail, as so
many of the attacks come from within. But worse
than attacks from within or without is the sordid security
and mental inertia of all the people about me:
they are strangling me just as surely as if they put
a rope around my neck. By day they hurry on like
ghosts about their business, and by night they gather
in the little tombs of many rooms they call their
“You may call it madness, this
my cutting off of all things. I know that I have
kept off madness a long while now. I have shrunk
from ‘business’ to social anarchy and
pure beings, from these again I have shrunk to books
and poetry, from these again into the solitude of myself
where only I am really at home. Though I have
lost my general bearings, I still stand at the helm
of myself. I am going to pieces on the rocks of
the world, but I still inhabit the realm of the soul.
“When I could no longer see
my ideals rise out of my work, I quit that work; for
then the work was no longer an expression of myself.
This is the origin of all modern problems. A
man stands to his job because of the visions that
come to him only when at work. He sees in imagery
his own possibilities arise out of the thing on which
he is at work, and easily links himself to his fellows.
Thus does the worker make of his eternal cerebral
rehearsals an endless chain of imaged solidarity binding
him in a maze from which he can never think his way
out. The fixed gaze of those who try to grasp
the abstract is proof of this.
“When I could no longer see
my ideals arise out of human solidarity, I quit my
fanatical belief in the possibility of a Utopia.
So that now I am not even an anarchist. I am
ready to pass it all up.”
When I saw Terry for the last time,
and found him in this almost crazy crisis of extreme
individualism, where he hopelessly “passed up”
everything human society, love and friendship,
all the things his warm and loving Irish heart really
desired, I felt that here indeed was a complete expression
of the spirit of revolt. It was so extreme that
I and no one else could follow him in it. It
had passed beyond the point where social rebellion
may be useful or stimulating or suggestive poetically
and had reached the sad absurdity of all extreme attitudes.
One lesson Terry’s proud and strenuous soul has
never learned: that the deeper and simpler things
in social growth we must take on faith. We cannot
demand an ideal reason or justification for all social organisation, for the ways that human beings have of
living together. The elementary social forms
at least must be instinctively and blindly accepted.
To go beyond in one’s rejection the anarchism
of the social communist into what is called individualistic
anarchism is mere egotistic madness and has as its
only value the possible poetry of a unified personal
expression. Into this it was that Terry fell,
and of course he could find no support for it except
in his own soul, which could not bear the strain.
No soul could, for, struggle as we may, we are largely
social and cannot stand alone. Terry’s life
well shows the sympathetic source of social rebellion
and its justification, but it also shows the ultimate
sterility of its extreme expression.
The latest word I have about Marie
is that she is at work “keeping house for a
respectable family” in San Francisco. Her
experience in camping-out seems to have rendered her
normal to, for her, an extreme degree. Going
to work certainly represented as radical a reaction
from Terry and his philosophy as well could be imagined.
A friend of mine in San Francisco writes of her:
“She is now to all appearances a good, respectable
girl. She wants to live a new life, is working
hard, and is trying to break away from smoking.
Sometimes she feels the restraint severely, and comes
to our house where she knows she can smoke and express
herself. She is in better health, and I think
now is in close enough touch with nature not to want
to go back for nourishment to ideas and the slum.”
The latest word I have from Terry
shows him faithful to the end faithful
to his character and his mood:
“There is a rumour that Marie
has got a job at general housework. This gave
me the blues after all our life together,
this the end! I’d rather have her do general
prostitution, with the chance of having an occasional
rest in the hospital. But perhaps her drudgery
will kill her enthusiasm for ‘vita nuova!’
“I should have answered your
letter had I not been suffering from an old malady
of mine which is accompanied by such mental depression
that I could not answer the communication of even
a lost soul. I had to seek surcease in my old
remedy of hasheesh and chloroform, which was a change
from suffering to stupidity. But I shall not swell
the cosmic chorus of woe by raising my cracked voice
against impending fate. I am more and more alone,
more and more conscious of a growing something that
is keeping me apart from all whom I can possibly avoid.”
Terry is nearing his logical end,
while Marie is still struggling for life, life given
her in the beginning by this strange man, whose influence
was then to take it away from her; and from this, like
the world, she rebelled. “Anarchism”
she embraced as long as it enhanced her being; as
long as this deeply emotional philosophy added to the
fulness of her life, she saw its meaning and its use;
when it finally tended to sterilise her new existence,
its “pragmatic” value was nothing.
This is the test of all social theory:
How It Works Out. In Marie’s case, as in
the case of many proletarians, it worked out well,
as a general civilising and consoling philosophy,
for a time, but when carried to an “idealistic”
extreme, it tended rapidly towards general death from
which all live things react. So it was with Marie:
she left her “poisonous” Terry and sought
for another vitalising experience. Goethe said
that the best government is that which makes itself
superfluous. Terry’s spiritual influence
on Marie, important for her in the beginning as rendering
her self-respecting and mentally ambitious, had become
superfluous. But it had been of great value to
the girl. So, too, with our society. The
extreme rebellious attitude educates us sometimes
to the point where rebellion is superfluous.