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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 1/34 -


By Isabel Meredith


In spite of the fact that there are certain highly respectable individualists of a rabid type who prefer to call themselves Anarchists, it must be owned that it requires some courage to write about Anarchism even with the sympathy befitting a clinical physician or the scientific detachment of a pathologist. And yet it is certain that Anarchists are curiously interesting, and not the less in need of observation from the fact that apparently none of the social quacks who prescribe seriously in leading articles has the faintest insight into them as a phenomenon, a portent, or a disease. This book, if it is read with understanding, will, I feel assured, do not a little to show how it comes about that Anarchism is as truly endemic in Western Civilisations as cholera is in India. Isabel Meredith, whom I had the pleasure of knowing when she was a more humble member of the staff of the _Tocsin_ than the editor, occupies, to my knowledge, a very curious and unique position in the history of English Anarchism. There is nothing whatever in "A Girl among the Anarchists" which is invented, the whole thing is an experience told very simply, but I think convincingly. Nevertheless as such a human document must seem incredible to the ordinary reader, I have no little pleasure in saying that I know what she has written to be true. I was myself a contributor to the paper which is here known as the _Tocsin_. I have handled the press and have discussed details (which did not include bombs) with the editor. I knew "Kosinski" and still have an admiration for "Nekrovitch." And even now I do not mind avowing that I am philosophically as much an Anarchist as the late Dr. H. G. Sutton, who would no doubt have been astounded to learn that he belonged to the brotherhood.

Curiously enough I have found most Anarchists of the mildest dispositions. I have met meek Germans (there are meek Germans still extant) who even in their wildest Anarchic indignation seemed as little capable of hurting a living soul as of setting the Elbe on fire. For it must be understood that the "red wing" of the Anarchists is a very small section of the body of philosophers known as Anarchists. There is no doubt that those of the dynamite section are practically insane. They are "impulsives"; they were outraged and they revolted before birth. Most of the proletariat take their thrashing lying down. There are some who cannot do that. It is out of these who are not meek and do not inherit even standing-room on the earth that such as "Matthieu" comes. Perhaps it may not be out of place to suggest that a little investigation might be better than denunciation, which is always wide of the mark, and that, as Anarchism is created by the social system of repression, more repression will only create more Anarchism. However, I am perfectly aware that the next time a wild-eyed philosopher, who ought to be under restraint in an asylum, throws a bomb, all the newspapers in Europe will advocate measures for turning all the meeker Anarchists into outrage-mongers. For of the Anarchists it is certainly true that repression does not repress. Anarchism is a creed and a philosophy, but neither as creed nor philosophy does it advocate violence. It only justifies resistance to violence. So much, I think, will be discovered in this book even by a leader-writer.

In conclusion I cannot do better than quote from Spinoza's _Tractatus Politicus:_--

"In order that I might inquire better into the matter of this science with the same freedom of mind with which we are wont to treat lines and surfaces in mathematics, I determined not to laugh or weep over the actions of men but simply to understand them, and to contemplate their affections and passions such as love, hate, anger, envy, arrogance, pity, and all other disturbances of soul not as vices of human nature, but as properties pertaining to it in the same way as heat, cold, storm, thunder pertain to the nature of the atmosphere. For these, though troublesome, are yet necessary and have certain causes through which we may come to understand them, and thus by contemplating them in their truth, gain for our minds as much joy as by the knowledge of things which are pleasing to the senses."

I think that Isabel Meredith, so far as the outlook of her book extends, is a disciple of Spinoza. But she can speak for herself.

















In the small hours of a bitter January morning I sat in my room gazing into the fire, and thinking over many things. I was alone in the house, except for the servants, but this circumstance did not affect me. My childhood and upbringing had been of no ordinary nature, and I was used to looking after myself and depending on my own resources for amusement and occupation.

My mother had died when I was yet a small child and, with my elder sister and brother, I had grown up under our father's eye. He was a chemist and a man of advanced ideas on most things. He had never sent us to school, preferring to watch in person over our education, procuring for us private tuition in many subjects, and himself instructing us in physical science and history, his two favourite studies. We rapidly gained knowledge under his system and were decidedly precocious children, but we had none of the ordinary school society and routine. Our childhood was by no means dull or mopish, for there were three of us and we got on very well together, but we mixed hardly at all with children of our own age, our interests were not theirs, and their boisterous ways were somewhat repellent to us.

Our father was a great believer in liberty, and, strange to say, he put his ideas into practice in his own household. He was a devoted and enthusiastic student, and for days, nay, weeks together, we would see but little of him. He had fitted himself up a small laboratory at the top of our house on which he spent all his available money, and here he passed nearly all the time he could dispose of over and beyond that necessary for the preparation and delivery of his scientific lectures. As we grew out of childhood he made no difference in his mode of life. He gave us full liberty to follow our various bents, assisting us with his advice when requested, ever ready to provide the money necessary for any special studies or books; taking an interest in our readings and intellectual pursuits. The idea of providing us with suitable society, of launching us out into the world, of troubling to see that we conformed to the ordinary conventions of society, never occurred to him. Occasionally some old friend of his would drop in, or some young admirer who had followed his scientific work in the press would write asking permission to call and consult him on some point. They were always received with cordiality, and my father would take much trouble to be of any assistance he could to them. We children used generally to be present on such occasions, and frequently would join in the conversation, and thus we got to know various people, among whom foreigners and various types of cranks were fairly in evidence.

We lived in a large old-fashioned house in Fitzroy Square where our father had settled down somewhere in the seventies soon after his marriage to a South American Spaniard, whom he had met during a scientific research expedition in Brazil. She was a girl of seventeen, his junior by some twenty years. During his journeys into the interior of Brazil he had fallen seriously ill with malarial fever, and had been most kindly taken in and nursed by a coffee-planter and his family. Here he had met his future wife who was acting as governess. She was of Spanish descent, and combined the passionate enthusiasm of a Southerner with the independence and self-reliance which life in a new and only partially civilised country breeds. She was an orphan and penniless, but our father fell in love with her, attracted doubtless by her beauty and vivaciousness in such striking contrast with his bookish way of life, and he married her and brought her home to London. He truly loved her and was a good husband in all essential respects, but the uncongenial climate and monotonous life told on her health, and she died three years after my birth, much mourned by her husband, who plunged all the more deeply into scientific research, his only other thought being a care for our education. He had lived on in the same old house which grew somewhat dingier and shabbier each year, whilst the neighbourhood fell from its pristine respectability to become the resort of foreigners of somewhat doubtful character, of Bohemian artists and musicians.

As I sat gazing into the fire many pictures of those old days rose before me. I saw our large drawing-room with its old-fashioned furniture, handsome, often beautiful, but ill-kept; its sombre hangings and fine pictures. I recalled a typical scene there with a large fire burning cheerily in the big grate, relieving the gloom of a late winter afternoon with the bright flickering of its flames. Ensconced in a roomy arm-chair, our father is seated by the fire in a skullcap and list slippers, with his favourite cat perched on his knee. Opposite him sit two ladies, the elder of whom--a quaint, nice-looking old lady, dressed neatly in black, but whose innate eccentricity succeeded in imparting something odd to the simplest and quietest of attires--is leaning eagerly forward, pouring forth a long tale of woe into my father's sympathetic ear. She is denouncing the London roughs, landlords, and police, who, apparently, are all in league to ruin her and turn her cats astray upon an unkind world. The brutality of the English poor, who consider their duty towards the

A Girl Among the Anarchists - 1/34

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