Paris Notes

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Benjamin Ricketson Tucker

1

Paris Notes.

I read in "L'Homme Libre " that in the home of the painter Lauth, who married George Sand's granddaughter, it is forbidden to speak the name of Alfred de Musset. Visitors are warned in advance by the familiars of the house. Sometimes, however, the hazards of conversation lead someone to mention the poet of " L e s Nuits," whereupon an icy silence marks the offender's blunder. This reminds one of Vizetelly's apology for Zola's illegitimate children. What a pity that our heroes and our ancestors are not always precisely as good as ourselves—not a whit better! A cat may look at a king, but may it expect royalty to be feline?

* * *

Mademoiselle Renée Mignot, having been classed as a feminist by Monsieur Victor Méric, in Les Hommes du Jour, apropos of something that she had written in La Cravache, of Reims, sends Monsieur Méric an answer, from which the following is an extract:—

"I know not what you mean with your 'free women.' Why this plural? I am a free woman who troubles herself very little about her companions. I am a ' lone Amazon.' In the last analysis I am nothing at all ; my opinion is to have no opinions. I doubt everything, am certain about nothing. I criticise everything. I analyse ideas. I gather impressions without ever feeling the need of coming to a conclusion. To conclude is to be pretentious and vain.

" I entertain no illusions as to men, or as to myself, or as to love, and yet among men I count some good comrades. I take love for what it is worth—a physical passion, almost a physiological necessity which I am not free to escape.

" I write solely for my own pleasure. I do not utter ideas with a view to inducing others to share them ; the clash of ideas alone interests me.

" As for the usefulness and charm of life, of which you see evidence in love, the family, and beauty, permit me to dispute them. Your affirmations have value only for one individual, whose name is V. Méric. Why generalise from one's own phenomenon? For my part, I deny both the charm and the usefulness of life. . . . I do not believe in happiness, because I do not believe in justice. I do not believe in the perfectability of people or of things. I call in question the benefits of the arts and sciences.

"Although my nihilism is of a rather joyous nature, I would willingly say with Leopardi : ' All that is is evil. Existence is an evil, an abomination, a monstrosity!' Yet I do not commit suicide ; whoso commits suicide desires life.

"Confess that I am not simply a charming lady, but also a mad woman ! But reassure yourself, I am not in the least deranged, not in the least ugly.

"Would you believe me if I told you that I am twenty-five years old, that I am not dyspeptic, and that I am a water-drinker?"

* * *

The following is an extract from Remy de Gourment in La France: "It seems that the Tribunal of the Seine (it is composed of numerous chambers and sections) is working with an incomparable ardour. It judges everything that comes before it with a celerity that leaves one overwhelmed with astonishment. Ten, twenty, thirty thousand cases do not frighten it. In spite of everything it is fourteen thousand cases in arrears. All these are about to be cleared away. And the work is beginning. Ah ! how far we are from the oak of Saint Louis ! Shall I say that I have not read the reports of these precipitate labours without a certain fear? These judges really know their trade too well. Their skill is a little disturbing. One of my friends has just had occasion to be present at a session of the court, and he confesses that he went out a little frightened, so thickly rained the days, the months, the years of prison on the heads of the poor devils. Nobody understood what was going on, least of all the unfortunates whose debatable acts seemed to call for a certain discussion. But the judge, and especially the hurried judge, the judge who clears away heaps of fourteen thousand cases with a shovel, sees only categories where we see individual offences. Ten robberies seem to us ten very different affairs, the attitude of the robber varying no less than that of the victim, but to the judge there is only one affair, only one offence, and it is the offender that becomes an abstraction. Is the judge right? Are we obsessed by our naivete? A deed is a deed. Very well, but there are individuals who lend their special quality to the deed. Oh ! if we were to enter into all these matters of psychology, there would be no end. And we must end, since there is always a re-beginning. Next case !

* * *

Unless the Free Woman is uninterested in the Free Man, your readers will enjoy a translation that I have made of a passage from one of Clemenceau's leaders in his new daily, L'Homme Libre, the birth of which in Paris was almost coincident with the revival of your Femme Libre in England. Sympathizing with his friend, the Abbé Lemire, the Catholic Republican whom a recent papal decree has prevented from renewing his candidacy for the Chamber of Deputies, the freethinker Clemenceau says :

"We both are victims, I tell you. You, because, aspiring to liberty, you can find it only in yourself, outside the support, on which you had counted, of a faith freely accepted, freely practised, which ends in imposing a constraint upon you. I, because, wishing to liberate in my turn, and clashing with the formidable opposition of a past of violence, I see myself condemned to impose constraint, not on those who must face history under the weight of deviations disastrous to humanity, but on unfortunates who have received the sad inheritance and are bound to suffer, whether they repudiate it or choose to enwrap themselves alive in the winding-sheet of the things that have been.

"Do you wish an example borrowed from my own recollections? When Minister of the Interior, it fell to my lot to secularize the hospital service of the Hôtel-Dieu. So I sent for the mother superior of the congregation concerned. There came to my office a venerable and wrinkled old woman, with mild and timid eyes, in which was summed the anguish of an accident long foreseen. I welcomed her respectfully, and tried to explain to her, not only what the law required, but how we had been driven, in the very interest of the liberty of belief, to see to it that often been a witness, should no longer occur in hospitals maintained by taxpayers of different faiths.

"That I might not wound, I carefully weighed my words. How could I have succeeded? I saw the poor, sorrowful face contract without a word, and big tears, following the lines of the deep wrinkles, fell on the sad and discouraged hands. Much moved by this silent breakdown, I gently made excuses for being the cause of it. 'We both are victims,' said I, 'of a situation that far antedates us. You expiate faults that are not yours personally, and I, who seem to you an agent of cruel constraint, establish in the end a situation of liberty for all.' She did not move or speak, but her tears continued to flow.

"They flowed till the moment of her departure, marked only by a trembling gesture of politeness. And, although I was very certain of having acted in the interest of liberty—remembering as I did so many instances of religious pressure on the sick and dying—I remained obsessed by the spectacle of sorrow which an act of liberation had imposed upon me. No good without an accompanying ill, such, we must believe, is our misfortune. I know, moreover, other cases of secularization whose history lends itself less to the suggestions of philosophy. " So the only thing that astonishes me in your Chambers to which you have become acclimated by twenty years of work. Are you then so young? When one is near to quitting the movement of men for a still longer time, the determination of our destinies calls for a superior detachment. Between ourselves, I am persuaded that politics has no joys save for those whom I would advise to let politics alone. You are not of those, and that is why, my priest, you are forbidden to remain in politics.

"Chance and malchance! Who knows if they do not render you a service in separating you from those sad battles in which there is often less heroism than sound, before you begin to feel the need of peace for your approaching end? You will go back to your parish, you will live there as a good priest, under the reprimands of an old servant who, I am told, knows how to make herself obeyed, happy with your hens, your leeks, your roses—symbols of the extreme needs of humanity. You will have neighbours (one realises that only in a village), the good and the bad. I recommend to you the latter, who are of an excellent school for the sound conduct of life.

"And then you will ascend your pulpit and say things that your parishioners will not understand. That is of no importance, because they will come to you in search, not of a doctrine the comprehension of which surpasses their degree of culture, but simply of a voice of sympathy, a resonance of fraternal compassion, in earthly trials. They will find it, because your are good and goodness bestows all things. In short, this biblical flock will derive consolation from the gestures of their shepherd, which will place them, as they think, under the august protection of the Unknown.

"Of necessity you will be hated, because, being a republican, you will not sack the secular school, and because the prevailing liberalism, in the village as in the city, has no comprehension of love without a corresponding hatred. Perhaps your windows will be broken, perhaps an assault will be made upon your friendships ; that is no great matter, for those who can be separated from you will not be worth your regrets.

"And then, as soon as you are dead and no longer a source of embarrassment to anyone, all will begin to speak well of you and even to think well of you. You will see what a fine funeral they will give you. It annoys me to know that I shall not be there, for I shall have long since quitted this world. It annoys me still more to think that I shall not meet you in the other world, for I could entertain such a hope only on an hypothesis that would be rather uncomfortable for you."

Léon Daudet, in his Royalist journal, L'Action Française, declares that Clemenceau (known as "The Tiger") sheds crocodile tears over the mother superior. At least he sheds them well. An artist always.

BENJAMIN R. TUCKER.  

2

Paris Notes.

SCHOOL PRIZES AND PROBLEMS.

(Translated from the French of Small-caps|Jean Jacques Brousson}} in " Gil Blas.")

HAPPY Barbamuche (Hector, Victor, Nestor, Népomucène, Vinceslas), I have learned through the newspapers of your academic triumphs. At the distribution of prizes in your grammar-school you have been named fifteen times. Prize for conduct, for geography, for cosmography, for dancing, for football, for Greek version, for horsemanship, for violin playing, for history, for Latin verses, for Spanish, for fencing, for algebra, for line drawing,—you have had them all. Yes, fifteen times, with gymnastic stride and to the strains of a discordant and patriotic orchestra, you have mounted the steps of the platform hung in blood-red Andrinople. Fifteen times the mayor of the town has encircled your pimpled and close-cropped brow with a crown of crimped-paper daisies. Fifteen times he has kissed, without passion or disgust, your downy purple cheeks. Fifteen times you have redescended the trembling boards of glory, your arms breaking under the burden of your trophies. Every mother in the audience regretted that she had not carried you in her womb. Every father was jealous of your progenitor.

On your way home, O Barbamuche, in the procession of your parents, of your sisters, of your nieces, of your serving-maids, proud caravan staggering under the heap of heavy octavos bound in red and gilt, you met the little Crabouillat.

He is the dunce of the class.

You eyed him with just disdain. He had obtained not the tiniest booklet, not even a leaf of laurel wherewith to season a stew.

In shame, like a malefactor, his father thumped him along to hasten his flight from the gaze of a contemptuous public. Resembling the lamentable Niobe, his mother, weeping like a gutter-spout, followed at fifteen paces, hiding the immensity of her affliction behind an inadequate handkerchief.

At sight of you both, Monsieur Jourdain, Monsieur Dimanche, Monsieur Josse, Madame La Ressource, standing in the doorways of their shops, lifted the veil of the future:

"Ah! this Barbamuche! What ability! He will go far. Surely he will be a notary some day, or a council. Just as you see him, he will have his street and his statue in our city."

As for the distressing Crabouillat, they unanimously declared him unfit for anything, unsuited to any office in the republic. In advance they consigned him to privation, the night shelter, the hospital, and the paupers' grave.

Well, young and interesting Barbamuche, it will be just the contrary. The dunce will become His Excellency and have his statue. And the finest street in the city will be called Crabouillat Street.

For mark this, O Barbamuche, if there is an essential and fundamental truth in this lower world where all is uncertainty and illusion, it is that only the former dunces come to anything.

Having learned nothing at school, they have nothing to forget. Their brains are fresh, and not encrusted with that academic deposit of which you are so vain. They have so far done nothing. Good ! they are not tired. Their ardor is unimpaired. And then, is it true that they have done nothing?

It is very difficult to do nothing. While you were stuffing your thumbs in your ears to rehearse your everlasting lesson, your schoolfellow T, armed with a jagged penknife, was lovingly carving his name in his desk: I predict that he will become a famous, engraver on wood.

U, who dissected maybugs behind his raised deskcover, may end in the skin of a great entomologist. And entomologists, you know, are very much in fashion, because they prove God by the instincts of cockroaches.

And who shall prevent V, who converted the finest pages of Bossuet and Boileau into superb threemasters and elegant caravels, from becoming an admiral and sending his own battleships to the bottom, quite like any other?

As for the ingenious W, who poured the dregs of his glass on litmus paper to make it redden like a young virgin, the subtle W who made the ink boil in the inkstands by sprinkling it with powdered chalk, he will follow in Pasteur's footsteps, and become famous by the sacrifice of a hundred thousand innocent guinea-pigs. And why should not X, who drew caricatures of the teacher on the margins of his Virgil, be elected some day a member of the Institute?

Y, who bartered rusty pens, without points, for agate marbles, doubtless will become a Rothschild. Z, who yawned under the penalties imposed upon him and scanned on his dirty fingers verses to Noémie, his cousin, will be a poet. He will fling himself into the water with only six sous in his pocket. At least his name will float upon the lips of men.

While you, O Barbamuche (Hector, Victor, Nestor, Népomucène, Vinceslas), fifteen times named, will be at most a functionray, a paper-scratcher, a budgeteater.

You will wear out your shiny half-sleeves on ministerial paper. Broken to discipline and routine on the benches of your school, you will be fit for nothing but to turn a mill, like the blindfolded ass.

Not with field daisies or victorious laurels should your sheepish persistence have been crowned, but with a prophetic leather ring-cushion.

* * *

"A vessel has 3 masts. The mizzenmast measures 20 metres, the mainmast 25, and the foremast 19.75. Its tonnage is 4,000. It has provisions on board for 98 days. There are 127 passengers. Find the age of the captain." Such, or nearly such, is the problem that a pedant propounded to the sagacity of a graduating class. This somewhat outworn pleasantry has excited the vengeful fervor of our journalistic confrères. But there is nothing new about it. Pedants have always been banterers, delighting in setting snares.

Our master, Anatole France, loves to tell how old father Hase, a soaring Hellenist, took him down at his examinations.

This famous philologist questioned him in geography, as is the custom. Had he been a geographer, he would have questioned him in philology.

"My child," said he, "you have been highly recommended to me. Well, let us see. Do not be troubled. Do not answer hastily. The Seine empties into the Channel, doesn't it?"

" Yes , Monsieur."

"Very good! Very good! The Loire empties into the Atlantic, doesn't it?"

"Yes, Monsieur," said the youth, with growing confidence.

"Perfect ! Perfect ! The Gironde also empties into the Atlantic, doesn't i t ?"

"Yes, Monsieur"; and this time the acquiescence was accompanied by a beatific smile.

"Marvellous! And the Rhone empties into Lake Michigan, doesn't it?"

"Yes, Monsieur," answered the candidate, enthusiastically, fascinated by the hypocritical benevolence of his executioner.

"Ah! Truly? The Rhone empties into Lake Michigan? You are an ass, my child, a downright ass, asinus. I give you a zero, a pointed zero. Off with you!"

In your opinion, which of the two had the longer ears, old father Hase or the young Thibaut, who since has become Anatole France?

* * *

HISTORY IN ANTICIPATION.

(Translated from the French of Clément Vautil in "Le Matin.")

Mademoiselle Dupont is engaged to be married. She is delightful, and Monsieur Durand, her intended, is a charming fellow, a little delicate in health, it is true, but never complaining. Moreover, marriage will do him good. Nothing like the conjugal soup-kettle to restore one's vigour.

One day the young woman's father takes Monsieur Durand into a corner, and says to him:

"All is broken off."

"Why?"

"You did not tell me that your name is on the official list of the tuberculous!"

"True, but I am getting better. And, as I have friends in high office, I hope that my name will soon be taken off the list."

"No matter; I cannot allow my daughter to marry a consumptive."

The marriage is abandoned. Commonplace consequence of the compulsory declaration of tuberculosis!

Some time later Mademoiselle Dupont is engaged again. This time Monsieur Chose is the choice of her heart. Monsieur Chose also seems to be suffering a little, but Papa Dupont attaches no importance to this; he has assured himself that his future son-in-law does not figure on the famous list drawn up by the advice of the Academy of Medicine.

The marriage is celebrated joyously. Who still remembers the poor evicted consumptive?

Now, a year later, the young woman is delivered! of a still-born child. Moreover, characteristic symptoms had already enlightened the family physician. Monsieur Chose is obliged to confess:

"It is true, I am syphilitic. But, after all, that is my right. I figure on no list of prohibitions. And I have married with the guarantee of the government!"

* * *

A French deputy who lately addressed the Chamber for four hours on a matter of law rushed into the library not long ago and said to the librarian:

"You have no idea of the tricks that my memory plays me. Perhaps you can tell me—for I have forgotten—on what date the law of supply and demand was enacted."

I cannot vouch for the foregoing. L'Intransigeant is responsible for it. Se non è véro, ben trovato.

* * *

A Columbia University professor, while refusing to approve the tactics of the suffragettes, complimented them on the fibre shown in their willingness to commit crime and take the consequences. Someone answered that the compliment was undeserved, since the suffragettes, in resisting forcible feeding, decline to take the consequences. Doubtless the professor would have been happier in his phrase had he directed his eulogy to the willingness to risk the consequences. But his critic's position is groundless. A rebel against the State is contemptible if he complains of the consequences of his rebellion, but certainly he is entitled to avoid them if he can, and, in doing so, he shows, not lack of fibre, but possession of wit. To say that a rebel is bound in honour to take the consequences is to declare the victim the tyrant's debtor, and is superstition pure and simple.

* * *

ANARCHY'S NEW ALLIES.

THE movement in favour of exacting health certificates from both parties to a marriage is gaining ground rapidly in the United States. Legislatures are enacting laws in this direction, and religious bodies are ordering their clergymen to refrain from solemnizing marriages without the physician's sanction. Whereat there is much rejoicing, it being forgotten apparently that husbands and wives may, and frequently do, contract disease after marriage, and communicate it to offspring. The logic of this movement requires periodical examination of all husbands and wives by authorized doctors, and compulsory divorce in case of the discovery of disease. The prostitute who is pestered in this way may live to see the wife similarly treated. Let us have equality before the law for all licensees of the State. But do these hygienic moralists realize that they are aiding the Anarchists, though not by Anarchistic methods, to lessen the number of marriages, increase the number of free unions and illegitimate children, and reduce the birth-rate? Now that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is helping Brieux to put "Damaged Goods" on the stage, what will Rockefeller do if Brieux asks him to alternate "Damaged Goods" with "Maternity"? The one play discourages marriage, the other encourages abortion, and the result of either is fewer slaves for Rockefeller. And what will happen when this form of the eugenics craze shall strike France, already in a panic over the dwindling of her population? Will Piety and Patriotism, in league to contrive ways and means for the more rapid production of human targets for invisible artillery belching shrapnel, be able to resist the demand of Purity that henceforth no invalid shall be permitted to engage in target manufacture? There is trouble ahead for the three Ps, whatever road they take. The gods have made them mad, and their consequent destruction is imminent.

BENJ. R. TUCKER.

 


  • Benjamin R. Tucker, “Paris Notes,” The New Freewoman 1, no. 3 (July 15, 1913): 48.
  • Benjamin R. Tucker, “Paris Notes,” The New Freewoman 1, no. 4 (August 1, 1913): 72-74.