The Criminal Record of Elisee Reclus

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THE CRIMINAL RECORD OF ELISEE RECLUS.<ref>The series of three articles printed under this head originally appeared in Henri Rochefort's journal, "L'Intransigoant," on January 11, January 30, and February 8, 18S3, and were written apropos of the rumors then current regarding the French government's Intention of arresting Elisee Reclus on a charge of conspiracy with Pierre Kropotkine, who was then on trial and shortly afterwards was sentenced to imprisonment for a long term. The following letter from M. Reclus himself had also just appeared: —

Monsieur Rigot, Examining Magistrate, at Lyons:

Sir, — I read in the Lyons " Republican " of December 20 that, " according to the warrant," the two chiefs and organizers of the " revolutionary Anarchists" are Elisee Reclus and Prince Kropotkine, and that I do not share my friend's imprisonment for the sole reason that French justice cannot go beyond the frontier to arrest me.

You know, however, that it would have been very easy to arrest me, since I have just passed more than two months in France. Nor are you ignorant that I returned to Thonon to attend tho burial of Ananiefl' the day after Kropotkine's arrest, and that I pronounced a few words over his grave. The officers who were stationed Immediately behind me and who repeated my name had only to invite me to follow them.

But whether I reside in France or In Switzerland matters little. If you desire to institute proceedings against me, I will hasten to respond to your personal invitation.

Name the place, the day, and the hour.

At the appointed time I will knock at the door of the prison designated.

Accept, sir, my civilities.

Eliskk Reclus. — Editor Liberty.

t Then French minister of justice. — Editor Liberty. </ref>


The examining magistrate in the trials now in progress at Lyons appears to have abandoned the ingenious idea which he at first entertained, — or adding Elisee Mucins to his little collection of malefactors.

Elisee Reclus, nevertheless, placed himself at his disposition with perfect good grace. But it had been discovered, that, in the matter of conspicuous names, that of our friend Kropotkine sufficed for the moment. It is imprudent to put all one's eggs in the same basket, and it has been determined to save Elisee Reclus for the conspiracy that Deves f will not fail to discover next year.

Well! in my opinion, the Lyons magistrate, in this affair, has failed in all his duties. His mission is to protect society, and until he shall have laid hands on all the disturbers who are a menace to it, he will have done nothing. I point out this timorous judge to the implacable Deves.

But the audacious criminal — I do not mean the examining magistrate or Deves — shall not escape, through I know not what shameful compromises, being branded as he deserves.

At the risk of exposing my breast to the daggers of the Internationalists, of whom I should still be one if it were not forbidden, I will pitilessly draw up the criminal record of the hardened rascal whom the galleys claim, if not the scaffold.

Before all else the public safety!

Elisee Reclus was a precocious criminal. Brought up in detestable ideas 01 truth and justice, he was compelled to quit France, whose ruin he already plotted, at the time when Napoleon III. was trying to save her. At the coup cTElat of 1851 Elisee Reclus was barely twenty-one years old. He went to live — and industriously, I will answer for it — in England first, then in the two Americas, finally in New Granada.

The various pursuits in which he was obliged to engage did not prevent him from studying these various countries. The precious notes which he brought back to France in 1857 alone sufficed to place him in one day in the front rank of our geographers.

During the war of secession he published in the "Revue des Deux-Mondes" some remarkable studies which threw complete light upon the question, and started the current of public opinion in favor of the generous cause upheld by Lincoln.

The United States minister, grateful for this service spontaneously rendered, offered Elisee Reclus a considerable sum, which the young savant, wrapping himself in his proud poverty, had the indelicacy to refuse. Did he intend to give the men of the Empire a lesson which the men of the present Republic take for them? I do not know. What I do know is that this affectation of disinterestedness was a deplorable example.

Elisee Reclus did not stop there. Applying to his country and his fellow-citizens the marvellous processes of investigation in which he had been so successful elsewhere, he dared to find the economic and political system of imperial France not the best imaginable. An original savant, he did not separate, in his profound and luminous researches, effects from causes, men from the earth. It was not enough for him to determine the natural fertility of a soil; he bothered himself also about the conditions of the distribution of this common patrimony.

It was largely for that reason that in 1869 he joined the International. It was permissible then and even not unfashionable: no other proof is needed than the affiliation of that old crocodile, Jules Simon.

The wretch — I still mean Elisee Reclus — whose talent and notoriety enabled him to gain the highest positions, made common cause with the wretched against the bloated, with the exploited against the exploiters.

After the war of 1870, during which he was hypocritical enough to do his duty valiantly, he naturally found himself mingled with the Communalist movement. Throwing off all shame, on March 25, 1871, he offered the Thiers, MacMahons, and Galliffets the supreme insult of appealing, in the " Cri du Peuple," to their sentiments of humanity, fraternity, and reconciliation.

On the fifth of April following he fell into the hands of the soldiers of order at Chatillon. For seven months he was detained at Brest. There, instead of devoting his time to asking pardon and making his med culpa by beating the breasts of his accomplices, he formed the mad notion of teaching mathematics to his fellow-prisoners.

But the hour of punishment drew nigh. On November 15 Elisee Reclus was condemned to transportation by the seventh council of war sitting at Saint-Germain.

Thereby an unlooked-for scandal was created. The most illustrious savants of the entire" world intervened. Such men as Darwin, Williamson, &c, addressed to the little Thiers a collective letter.

"We dare to think," they said, " that the life of a man like Elisee Reelus, whose services in the cause of literature and science seem to us but a promise of other and greater services yet,—we dare to think that this life belongs not only to the country which gave it birth, but to the entire world, and that, in thus silencing such a man or sending him to languish far from the centres of civilization, France would only mutilate herself and lessen her legitimate influence upon the world."

Thiers (Adolphe), whom one infamy more or less was not calculated to frighten (on the contrary !), did not dare nevertheless to refuse such a petition, and commuted the sentence of Elisee Reclus to banishment.

I will show you in a second article how little gratitude was shown by this recipient of mercy. By which the Lyons court will find its work all done.


I thought I had said enough in my first article to call the attention of the magistracy to the crimes of Kropotkine's accomplice, and I expected to see him condemned, were it only in default, to imprisonment or hard labor for a respectable number of years.

This satisfaction has been refused me. That is no reason why I should lose courage. In pointing out, without insisting too strongly, the peril in which so hardened a disturber as Elisee Reclus places society, I fulfilled an imperative but painful duty. Though one were actuated by the best intentions in the world, the profession of informer is not exactly the most enviable of professions. Nevertheless, I am going to resume my thankless task, even though, a new Cassandra, I see my warnings perpetually ignored.

They have condemned the accomplices of Elisee Reclus for connection with an International Association, with the demonstration of whose existence they have supposed that they could dispense. It exists, no doubt, since the irremovable magistrates say so; nevertheless, to us profane beings, to whom the Holy Ghost refuses its light, a slight material proof would have been preferable to this affirmation.

But, once more, why not have included Elisee Reclus in the prosecutions? The evidence would have been overwhelming against him, for Elisee Reclus is internationalism incarnate in a great man.

As early as 1868 ho published, thanks to the complicity of the firm of Hachette & Co., a superb work entitled "The Earth."

It was and is yet the most beautiful picture ever drawn of the phenomena of the globe's life. A critic who is an authority has given his appreciation of it in these words: "This work puts a mine of interesting information within the reach of all. It awakens our curiosity, kindles within us the desire of personal investigation. In calling our attention to the phenomena and changes which one may follow and observe without difficulty, at least in part, he invites us to undertake for ourselves the direct study of nature, to penetrate further into the sanctuary of this science whose revelations are an invigorating light."

All this is very true; but that which is no less so is that already there appears, in the author of these two fine and valuable volumes, the determination to consider at once all points of the globe instead of confining himself, wisely and particularly, to the study, for instance, of that portion of it which gave him birth.

Elisee Reclus, aggravating his offenses, wrote at the beginning of his work: "I can say it with the feeling of duty done: to preserve my clearness of vision and honesty of thought I have traversed the world as a free man, I have contemplated nature with a look at once candid and proud, remembering that the ancient Freya was at the same time the goddess of the earth and of liberty."

"The Earth," magnificently published and illustrated, was, it must be confessed, immediately translated into several languages, and established the reputation of its author. This success, the more dangerous because deserved, resulted in, carrying to its paroxysm the international monomania of Elisee Reclus.

Scarcely restored, by the kindness of the little Thiers, to the comforts of an exile's life, he undertook a work before which any other man would have recoiled. 1 mean that" Universal Geography: A History of the Earth and its Inhabitants," the eighth volume of which has just appeared, and which will remain one of the most important books of our century.

Here again the complicity of Messrs Hachette & Co. is flagrant; they neglect nothing to propagate the substance of the offense. Looked at in the right light, are they not, after all, the guilty principals? For, indeed, if they had not taken it upon themselves but let that pass.

It would be impossible for me, be it understood, to devote to the "Universal Geography" of Rectus the profound study of which it is worthy. Ten articles like this would not be enough. I will confine myself, then, to a summary indication of its principal features.

Elisee Reclus, who, as an Anarchist, does nothing as other people do, not even in geography, does not confine himself, like his predecessors, to describing the physical aspect of the various portions of the globe: from a historical, biological, and, above all, sociological standpoint, ho describes the men who inhabit it and the institutions which they have created. He makes us witnesses of the formation of societies whose political transformations he explains to us. He makes us trace out race-relationships, initiates us into the origin and growth of languages, and all in a marvellous and entrancing style, at once colored and sober, showing that Elisee Reclus is no less a litterateur than a scientist.

Here is the language of the author in the introduction to his first volume: " The publication of a universal geography may seem a bold enterprise, but it is justified by the great progress recently made and still going on in the scientific conquest of the planet.

"The countries which have long been the domain of civilized man have allowed the penetration of a great portion of their mysteries; vast regions, which the European had never visited before, have been added to the known world, and the very laws which all terrestrial phenomena obey have been scrutinized with more rigorous precision. The acquisitions of science are too great and numerous to allow the introduction of a summary thereof into any old work, even one of the highest value, such as that of the illustrious Malte-Brun.

"A new period must have new books."

And farther on, giving an idea of what he intends to do, Elisee Reelus adds: "Conventional geography, which consists in giving longitudes and latitudes, in enumerating cities, villages, political and administrative divisions, will have but a secondary place in my work; the atlases, dictionaries, and official documents furnish all desirable information in this branch of geographical science."

Finally he ends with these eloquent and generous words:

"At least I can promise my readers careful work, honest judgments, and respect for the truth. That it is which permits me to confidently invite them to study with me this beneficent earth which bears us all and upon which it would be so pleasant to live as brothers."

An abominable programme, is it not? And I will show you that it was only too rigorously followed.


It was not arbitrarily that Elisee Reclus chose Southern Europe as the starting point of his patient and profound studies. It is in the countries bordering on the Mediterranean that he places, and rightly, the cradle of European civilization. Concerning that part of the globe we nave twenty centuries of uninterrupted history and documents. No other offers with equal certainty, for so long a series of years, a view of the relation between the earth and its inhabitants.

Searching for the origins of European peoples, Elisee Reclus remarks that very few political frontiers are at the same time lines of separation between races and tongues. "Founded as it is upon the right of war and the rivalry of ambitions," he writes, " European equilibrium is necessarily unstable While on the one hand it separates by violence peoples made to live the same political life, elsewhere it associates by force those who feel no ties of natural affinity; it tries to blend in one nation oppressors and oppressed, whom the memories of bloody struggles and massacres separate."

Farther on he adds: "True equilibrium will jnot be established until all the peoples of the continent shall be able to decide their own destinies for themselves, disengage themselves from every pretended right of conquest, and freely associate themselves with their neighbors for the management of common interests."

Given these premises and the vast plan which he had mapped out, could Elisee Reclus avoid establishing the existence of the human afflictions to which, with more or less equity and good will, it would be so easy to put an end?

Studying Turkey, for instance, could he help getting indignant in describing the way in which taxes are collected there? In that country certain collectors of tithes oblige the cultivators to heap up along their fields the whole products of their harvest until the agents of the Treasury have abstracted every tenth sheaf. Often half the crop is lost without profit to any one, before the government collects its tithe.

The Slavonic, Albanian, or Bulgarian peasant keeps the soil in a good productive state only in spite of his masters, who seem to take pains to disgust him with all effort and all labor.

In Italy Elisee Reclus saw that the scourge by which millions of cultivators are crushed is poverty.

"Deprived of the lands which belong to them, uncertain of the wages to come to them, the peasants of the Abruzzi and of Molise have remained serfs, although legally free. They belong to the master just as in the good old times

The peasants live in frightful dens, which the air reaches only in a polluted state. All the diseases caused by lack of food are common, and the mortality of children is large. Ignorance, the usual companion of poverty, is "still very dense in all the provinces of the Peninsula."

Do you wonder, then, O innocent bourgeois! that there are Socialists, Anarchists, rebels in short, in Italy?

In Spain, although progress is beginning to make itself felt there and labor is more respected than formerly, the Treasury, in spite of financial fictions, is in a state of permanent bankruptcy. In the country of the Cid public instruction is very much behindhand, while, on the other hand, the art of bull-fighting is still held in high honor.

The second volume is entirely devoted to France. The author shows that, although the nation since February 21, 1875, has been a regularly constituted republic, the institutions of the country are largely monarchical in origin and spirit.

Next taking up Switzerland (Central Europe, third volume), which has become, in proportion to its size, one of the most flourishing countries in Europe, he finds in the mountain pasture-lands either almenden — that is, common lands held by a town or village — or domains belonging to associations.

Material proofs that this individual property upon which we have based our institutions is not one of those holy principles without which a people cannot live.

In his fourth volume Elisee Reclus deals with Northwestern Europe, notably with England, which in many respects is still a feudal country.

He shows us in Ireland entire populations killed before their time by insufficiency of food and the impossibility of good hygiene.

The fifth volume is devoted to Scandinavian and Russian Europe. It is by no means the least saddening. We see there peasants, those of Saratow in 1873 for Instance, obliged even in periods of famine to sell their wheat in order to pay their taxes. In the spring they are too poor to repurchase of others, and then they literally die of hunger.

The sixth volume gives us a masterly description of Russian Asia. It is at the end of this volume that complicity with Kropotkine is declared with extraordinary impudence.

Elisee Reelus, in fact, confesses that our friend has revived in his behalf the memories of his geological explorations in Oriental Siberia and Manchuria; he has given him his notes, and indicated the relative value of tho articles printed in the Russian scientific journals.

Yet Kropotkine has been sentenced only to five years' imprisonment and ten years' police supervision! Truly, M. Deves's judges show an indulgence which borders on weakness.

The seventh volume is devoted to Oriental Asia; the eighth, and so far the last, deals with India and Indo-China. I have reviewed it elsewhere.

I shall have said all when I add that each of the volumes of the " Universal Geography " contains no less than a thousand quarto pages, and is illustrated with hundreds of maps in black and colors and with a large number of views and plans designed by our best and most conscientious artists.

Can the man of science and heart who shows that in all the countries of the world the situation of the most numerous classes of society is so intolerable counsel those who suffer thereby to tolerate it? Can he help wishing with all his heart and hastening with all his strength the advent of a better social organization?

Condemn, then, Elisee Reclus and his accomplices, myself included, Messrs. judges. Without suspecting it, you are aiding in the overthrow of the odious institutions which you pretend to sustain, and the revolutionary socialists have no more powerful auxiliaries than yourselves!

The End.