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- A Girl Among the Anarchists - 4/34 -
style, with a small but singularly intellectual head and an argumentative manner, whom I knew as Miss Cooper. The other was a man of some thirty-seven years, with auburn hair, which displayed a distinct tendency to develop into a flowing mane; tall, slim, and lithe of limb, with a splendid set of teeth, which showed under his bushy moustache whenever his frank, benevolent smile parted his lips. He was somewhat taciturn, but evidently tenacious; a glance at his spacious forehead and finely-shaped head revealed a man of mind, and the friendly, fearless glance of his eyes betokened a lovable nature, though, as he listened to his opponents or answered in his low distinct voice, there was an intensity and fixedness in their depth not incompatible with the fanatic.
This Dr. Armitage was one of the most noticeable figures in the English Anarchist movement, and it was with him that I first discussed Anarchist principles as opposed to those of legal Socialism. Nekrovitch and others often joined in the discussion, and very animated we all grew in the course of debate. Nekrovitch smiled sympathetically at my whole-hearted and ingenuous enthusiasm. He never made any attempt to scoff at it or to discourage me, though he vainly attempted to persuade me that Anarchism was too distant and unpractical an ideal, and that my energies and enthusiasm might be more advantageously expended in other directions. "Anyway," he once said to me, "it is very agreeable to a Russian to see young people interested in politics and political ideals. It reminds him of his own country."
Among the other Anarchists who frequented Nekrovitch's house was the Anarchist and scientist, Count Voratin, a man who had sacrificed wealth and high position and family ties for his principles with less fuss than another rich man would make in giving a donation to an hospital. He seemed always absolutely oblivious of his own great qualities, as simple and kindly in manners as a _moujik_ but with a certain innate dignity and courtliness of demeanour which lifted him above most of those with whom he came in contact. I nourished an almost passionate admiration for Voratin as a thinker and a man, and his writings had gone far to influence me in my Anarchist leanings. Never shall I forget the excitement I felt when first I met him at Nekrovitch's house. I reverenced him as only a youthful disciple can reverence a great leader.
From Armitage and Nekrovitch I heard much from time to time of another Russian Anarchist, Ivan Kosinski, a man actively engaged in the Anarchist propaganda all over Europe. He was much admired by them for his absolute unswerving devotion to his ideas. A student and a man of means, he had never hesitated between his interests and his convictions. He had come into collision with the Russian authorities by refusing to perform military service. In prison he would not recognise the right of judges and jailers, and had consequently spent most of his time in a strait waistcoat and a dark cell. His forte was silence and dogged unyielding obstinacy. On escaping from Russian prisons he had gone to America: he had starved and tramped, but he had never accepted any sort of help. How he lived was a mystery to all. He was known to be an ascetic and a woman-hater, and had been seen at one time selling fly-papers in the streets of New York. In revolutionary circles he was looked up to as an original thinker, and it was rumoured that he played a leading part in most of the revolutionary movements of recent years. He was also engaged on a life of Bakounine which was to be the standard work on the famous revolutionist, for which purpose he was always reading and travelling in search of material.
And at last one evening Nekrovitch announced that Kosinski was expected. I had heard so much about this man that I spent my whole evening in a state of suppressed excitement at the news. For many months past I had sympathised with the Anarchist principles, but I had taken no particular steps towards joining the party or exerting myself on its behalf. I was waiting for some special stimulus to action. Half unconsciously I found myself wondering whether Kosinski would prove this.
I had passed a pleasant evening in the little Chiswick house between the usual political and ethical discussions and the usual interesting or entertaining company. I had assisted at a long discussion between Miss Cooper and Dr. Armitage, which, commencing on the question of Socialism, had gradually deviated into one on food and dress reform, a matter upon which that lady held very strong views. I had felt a little irritated at the conversation, for I entertained scant sympathy for what I regarded as hygienic fads; and the emphasis with which the lady averred that she touched neither flesh nor alcohol, and felt that by this abstinence she was not "besotting her brain nor befouling her soul," amused me much. Dr. Armitage, to my surprise, expressed some sympathy with her views, and treated the question with what I considered undue importance. This discussion was brought at last to a termination by Miss Cooper breaking off for a meal (she always ate at regular intervals), and retiring into a corner to consume monkey-nuts out of a hanging pocket or pouch which she carried with her.
The evening advanced, and I began to despair of Kosinski's ever arriving. Every time there was a knock at the door, I wondered whether it was the much-expected Anarchist, but I was repeatedly disappointed. Once it was the musical infant prodigy of the season whose talents had taken London by storm, another time it was a Nihilist, yet another a wild-looking Czech poet. One loud rat-tat made me feel certain that Kosinski had arrived, but I was again disillusioned, as an aesthetic, fascinating little lady made her entry, dragging triumphantly in tow a reluctant, unengaging and green-haired husband. Nekrovitch gave me a significant glance. "So sorry to be so late," the little lady began in a high-pitched voice, "but I had to attend a meeting of our society for the distribution of sanitary dust-bins; and Humphry got quite disagreeable waiting for me outside, although he was well wrapped up in comforters and mits. My dear Anna (this to Madame Nekrovitch), _do_ tell him that he is most absurd and egoistic, and that it is his duty to think less of personal comfort and more of humanity."
At this last word the injured Humphry, who had approached the fire, and was attempting to thaw his nose and toes, gave utterance to a suppressed groan; but a cup of steaming tea and some appetising buttered toast diverted his spouse's thoughts, and she was soon deep in a confidential chat with Anna.
At last, long after eleven, appeared the new-comer of whom I had heard so much. I must confess that my preconceived notions (one always has a preconceived notion of the appearance of a person one has heard much spoken of) fell to the ground. I had imagined him dark and audacious, and I saw before me a tall, big, well-built man, with a slight stoop in his shoulders, fair of skin, with a blonde beard and moustache, lank long hair, a finely-cut, firm-set mouth, and blue dreamy eyes, altogether a somewhat Christ-like face. He was clad in a thick, heavy, old-fashioned blue overcoat with a velvet collar, which he refused to remove, baggy nondescript trousers, and uncouth-looking boots. He saluted his host and hostess in an undemonstrative style, bowed awkwardly to the other guests, and settled down to crouch over the fire, and look unostentatiously miserable.
From the first moment Kosinski interested me. His manners were not engaging; towards women especially he was decidedly hostile. But the marked indifference to opinion which his bearing indicated, his sincerity, his unmistakable moral courage, perhaps his evident aversion to my sex, all had for me a certain fascination.
I felt attracted towards the man, and was pleased that a discussion on Anarchism with Armitage at last afforded me an opportunity of exchanging a few words with him--even though on his side the conversation was not altogether flattering to myself. It happened in this way.
Nekrovitch, Armitage, and myself had, according to our wont, been discussing the great Anarchist question. For the hundredth time the Russian had endeavoured to persuade us of the truth and the reason of his point of view.
"So long as men are men," he maintained, "there must be some sort of government, some fixed recognised law--organisation, if you will, to control them."
"All governments are equally bad," answered the doctor. "All law is coercion, and coercion is immoral. Immoral conditions breed immoral people. In a free and enlightened society there would be no room for coercive law. Crime will disappear when healthy and natural conditions prevail."
And Nekrovitch, perceiving for the hundredth time that his arguments were vain, and that Armitage was not to be moved, had left us to ourselves and gone across to his other guests. Doctor Armitage, always eager for converts, turned his undivided attention to me.
"I hope yet to be able to claim you for a comrade," he said: "you are intelligent and open-minded, and cannot fail to see the futility of attempting to tinker up our worn-out society. You must see that our Socialist friends have only seized on half-truths, and they stop short where true reform should begin."
"I can quite see your point of view," I replied; "in fact I am more than half a convert already. But I should like to know what I can do. I have been interested now in these problems for a year or two, and must confess that the electioneering and drawing-room politics of Fabians and Social Democrats are not much to my taste; in fact I may say that I am sick of them. A few men like our friend Nekrovitch, who ennoble any opinions they may hold, are of course exceptions, but I cannot blind myself to the fact that ambition, wire-pulling, and faddism play a prominent part in the general proceedings. On the other hand you seem to me to sin in the opposite direction. No organisation, no definite programme, no specific object!--what practical good could any one like myself do in such a party?"
The doctor smiled a quiet smile of triumph as he proceeded to overthrow my objections: "Why, the very strength of our party lies in the fact that it has not what you are pleased to call an organisation. Organisations are only a means for intriguers and rogues to climb to power on the shoulders of their fellow-men; and at best only serve to trammel initiative and enterprise. With us every individual enjoys complete liberty of action. This of course does not mean to say that several individuals may not unite to attain some common object, as is shown by our groups which are scattered all over the globe. But each group is autonomous, and within the group each individual is his own law. Such an arrangement, besides being right in principle, offers great practical advantages in our war against society, and renders it impossible for governments to stamp us out. Again, as to our lack of programme, if a clear grasp of principle and of the ultimate aim to be attained is meant, it is wrong to say we have no programme, but, if you mean a set of rules and formulas, why, what are they after all but a means of sterilising ideas? Men and their surroundings are unceasingly undergoing modification and change, and one of the chief defects of all governments and parties hitherto has been that men have had to adapt themselves to their programmes, instead of their programmes to themselves. We make no statement as to specific object: each comrade has his own, and goes for it without considering it necessary to proclaim the fact to the whole world. Now you ask me how you could help this movement or what you could do, and I have no hesitation in saying, much. Every revolution requires revolutionists, we need propagandists, we need workers, we need brains and money, and you have both."
"So you think that one ought to place one's property at the service of the Cause, and that thus one is doing more good than by helping in the ordinary way?"
"Why, of course, the revolutionist aims at eradicating the causes of poverty and vice, whereas benevolence, by making it just possible for
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