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- Caesar's Column - 30/54 -

crusade against every evil. It is not enough to heal the wounds caused by the talons of the wild beasts of injustice; it should pursue them to their bone-huddled dens and slay them." [Great applause.] "It should labor not alone to relieve starvation, but to make starvation impossible;--_to kill it in its causes_.

"With the widest toleration toward those who address themselves to the future life, even to the neglect of this, the sole dogma of our society should be justice. If there is an elysium in the next world, and not a continuation of the troubled existence through which we are now passing, we will be all the better fitted to enjoy it if we have helped to make this world a heaven. And he who has labored to make earth a hell should enjoy his workmanship in another and more dreadful world, forever and forever.

"And oh, ye churches! Will ye not come up to the help of the people against the mighty? Will ye not help us break the jaws of the spoiler and drag the prey from between his teeth? Think what you could do if all your congregation were massed together to crush the horrid wrongs that abound in society! To save the world _you must fight corruption and take possession of government_. Turn your thoughts away from Moses and his ragged cohorts, and all the petty beliefs and blunders of the ancient world. Here is a world greater than Moses ever dreamed of. Here is a population infinitely vaster in numbers, more enlightened, more capable of exquisite enjoyment, and exquisite suffering, than all the children of Israel and all the subjects of imperial Rome combined. Come out of the past into the present. God is as much God to-day as he was in the time of the Pharaohs. If God loved man then he loves him now. Surely the cultured denizen of this enlightened century, in the midst of all the splendors of his transcendent civilization, is as worthy of the tender regard of his Creator as the half-fed and ignorant savage of the Arabian desert five thousand years ago. God lives yet, and he lives for us."

Here I paused. Although the vast audience had listened patiently to my address, and had, occasionally, even applauded some of its utterances, yet it was evident that what I said did not touch their hearts. In fact, a stout man, with a dark, stubbly beard, dressed like a workingman, rose on one of the side benches and said:

"Fellow-toilers, we have listened with great respect to what our friend Gabriel Weltstein has said to us, for we know he would help us if he could--that his heart is with us. And much that he has said is true. But the time has gone by to start such a society as be speaks of. Why, if we formed it, the distresses of the people are so great that our very members would sell us out on election day." [Applause.] "The community is rotten to the core; and so rotten that it is not conscious that it is rotten." [Applause.] "There is no sound place to build on. There is no remedy but the utter destruction of the existing order of things." [Great applause.] "It cannot be worse for us than it is; it may be better." [Cheers.]

"But," I cried out, "do you want to destroy civilization??"

"Civilization," he replied solemnly; "what interest have we in the preservation of civilization? Look around and behold its fruits! Here are probably ten thousand industrious, sober, intelligent workingmen; I doubt if there is one in all this multitude that can honestly say he has had, during the past week, enough to eat." [Cries of "That's so."] "I doubt if there is one here who believes that the present condition of things can give him, or his children, anything better for the future." [Applause.] "Our masters have educated us to understand that we have no interest in civilization or society. We are its victims, not its members. They depend on repression, on force alone; on cruelty, starvation, to hold us down until we work our lives away. Our lives are all we have;--it may be all we will ever have! They are as dear to us as existence is to the millionaire.

"What is civilization worth which means happiness for a few thousand men and inexpressible misery for hundreds of millions? No, down with it!" [Immense cheering. Men rising and waving their hats.] "If they have set love and justice adrift and depend only on force, why should we not have recourse to force also?" [Cheers and applause, mingled with cries of "Take care!" "Look out!" "Spies!" etc.] "Yes," continued the speaker, "I mean, of course, the force of argument and reason." [Great laughter and applause.] "Of course none of us would advocate a violation of the law--that blessed law which it has cost our masters so much hard-earned money to purchase;" [renewed laughter and applause,] "and which restrains us and not them; for under it no injustice is forbidden to them, and no justice is permitted to us, Our labor creates everything; we possess nothing. Yes, we have the scant supply of food necessary to enable us to create more." [Applause.] "We have ceased to be men--we are machines. Did God die for a machine? Certainly not.

"We are crushed under the world which we maintain, and our groans are drowned in the sounds of music and laughter." [Great applause.] "We have a hell that is more desperate and devilish than any dreamed of by the parsons--for we have to suffer to maintain the pleasures of heaven, while we have no share in what we ourselves create." [Laughter and applause.] "Do you suppose that if heaven were blown to pieces hell would be any worse off? At least, the work would stop." [Great applause, long-continued, with cries of "That's so!"]

Here a great uproar broke out near the end of the hall. A man had been caught secretly taking notes of the speaker's remarks. He was evidently a detective. On the instant a hundred men sprang upon him, and he was beaten and trampled under foot, until not only life, but all semblance of humanity, had been crushed out of him; and the wretched remains were dragged out and thrown upon the pavement. It is impossible to describe the uproar and confusion which ensued. In the midst of it a large platoon of police, several hundred strong, with their belts strung with magazine pistols, and great clubs in their hands, broke into the room, and began to deal blows and make arrests right and left, while the crowd fled through all the doors. Maximilian seized me and the poor clergyman, who had been sitting in a dazed and distraught state for some time, and dragged us both up a back stairway and through a rear exit into the street. There we took a carriage, and, after we had left the bewildered clergyman at his residence, Maximilian said to me as we rode home:

"You see, my dear Gabriel, I was right and you were wrong. That workman told the truth. You have arrived on the scene too late. A hundred years ago you might have formed your Brotherhood of Justice and saved society. Now there is but one cure--the Brotherhood of _Destruction_."

"Oh, my dear friend," I replied, "do not say so. _Destruction!_ What is it? The wiping out of the slow accumulations made by man's intelligence during thousands of years. A world cataclysm. A day of judgment. A day of fire and ashes. A world burned and swept bare of life. All the flowers of art; the beautiful, gossamer-like works of glorious literature; the sweet and lovely creations of the souls of men long since perished, and now the inestimable heritage of humanity; all, all crushed, torn, leveled in the dust. And all that is savage, brutal, cruel, demoniac in man's nature let loose to ravage the face of the world. Oh! horrible--most horrible! The mere thought works in me like a convulsion; what must the inexpressible reality be? To these poor, suffering, hopeless, degraded toilers; these children of oppression and the dust; these chained slaves, anything that would break open the gates of their prison-house would be welcome, even though it were an earthquake that destroyed the planet. But you and I, my dear friend, are educated to higher thoughts. We know the value of the precious boon of civilization. We know how bare and barren, and wretched and torpid, and utterly debased is soulless barbarism. I see enough to convince me that the ramifications of your society are like a net-work of wires, all over the earth, penetrating everywhere, and at every point touching the most deadly explosives of human passions and hates; and that it needs but the pressure of your finger upon the pedal to blow up the world. The folly of centuries has culminated in the most terrible organization that ever grew out of the wretchedness of mankind. But oh, my friend--you have a broad mind and a benevolent soul--tell me, is there no remedy? Cannot the day of wrath be averted?"

The tears flowed down my face as I spoke, and Maximilian placed his hand gently upon my arm, and said in the kindliest manner:

"My dear Gabriel, I have thought such thoughts as these many times; not with the fervor and vehemence of your more imaginative nature, but because I shrank, at first, from what you call 'a world-cataclysm.' But facts are stronger than the opinions of man. There is in every conflagration a time when a few pails of water would extinguish it; then there comes a time when the whole fire-department, with tons of water, can alone save what is left of the property; but sometimes a point is reached where even the boldest firemen are forced to recoil and give up the building to the devouring element. Two hundred years ago a little wise statesmanship might have averted the evils from which the world now suffers. One hundred years ago a gigantic effort, of all the good men of the world, might have saved society. Now the fire pours through every door, and window and crevice; the roof crackles; the walls totter; the heat of hell rages within the edifice; it is doomed; there is no power on earth that can save it; it must go down into ashes. What can you or I do? What will it avail the world if we rush into the flames and perish? No; we witness the working-out of great causes which we did not create. When man permits the establishment of self-generating evil he must submit to the effect. Our ancestors were blind, indifferent, heartless. We live in the culmination of their misdeeds. They have crawled into their graves and drawn the earth over them, and the flowers bloom on their last resting-places, and we are the inheritors of the hurricane which they invoked. Moreover," he continued, "how can reformation come? You have seen that audience to-night. Do you think they are capable of the delicate task of readjusting the disarranged conditions of the world? That workman was right. In the aggregate they are honest--most honest and honorable; but is there one of them whose cramped mind and starved stomach could resist the temptation of a ten-dollar bill? Think what a ten-dollar bill is to them! It represents all they crave: food, clothes, comfort, joy. It opens the gate of heaven to them; it is paradise, for a few hours at least. Why, they would mortgage their souls, they would trade their Maker, for a hundred dollars! The crime is not theirs, but the shallow creatures who once ruled the world, and permitted them to be brought to this state. And where else can you turn? Is it to the newspapers? They are a thousand times more dishonest than the workingmen. Is it to the halls of legislation? There corruption riots and rots until the stench fills the earth. The only ones who could reform the world are the rich and powerful: but they see nothing to reform. Life is all sunshine for them; civilization is a success for them; they need no better heaven than they enjoy. They have so long held mankind in subjection that they laugh at the idea of the great, dark, writhing masses, rising up to overthrow them. Government is, to them, an exquisitely adjusted piece of mechanism whose object is to keep the few happy and the many miserable."

"But," said I, "if an appeal were made to them; if they were assured of the dangers that really threatened them; if their better and kindlier natures were appealed to, do you not think they might undertake the task of remedying the evils endured by the multitude?

Caesar's Column - 30/54

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