The strong must ever rule the weak, is grim primordial law—
The Violent Little Fellow
During a period of violent excitement a pamphlet was circulated attacking all authority with venomous and daring eloquence. It boldly advised the “paralysation of all existing authoritarian institutions and organisations, the expropriation of the rich, and war to the death against that rotten-cored entity, society.” “Patriotism and religion,” it declared, “are the first and last refuges and strongholds of scoundrels.” It preached the “gospel of take.” Most people who read the fiery print smiled at its withering vehemence, but the head of the Police department was led to ominous reflections. Supposing this document were to reach the hands of incipient criminals, and exert its maleficent influence on weak minds? The officer saw the possibility of a wave of violence and riot. He must see the brutalised physical giant who wrote it, and let him understand that his doctrines would get him into trouble. He sent a message to the man ordering him to report at his office.
There was a timid, quavering knock.
A diminutive, hump-backed, wasted figure of a man opened the door a foot and
slunk abjectly through the crack. Washing his hands with invisible soap he
fawned his way, crouching to the desk, his features wrinkled the while by a
weak uneasy smile. His demeanor was that of a cowed dog, dreading a whipping.
“Well!” exclaimed the officer.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Bloss, sir.”
Not the Bloss that wrote this vile pamphlet?”
“Yes, sir; I wrote it.”
“Well, I’m —!” said the officer, throwing himself back in his chair. Then he whistled, and overcoming his amazement, roared with laughter.
If this police official had been closer student of human nature and of political history, he would not have been so much astonished. There is something that one of the best of literary critics calls a “double entendre of character.” There are personal traits that wholly belie external evidences. Fielding understood this better, perhaps, than any of the novelists, although Scott, Dickens, Stevenson and Balzac reveal the same knowledge over and over again. By a broad generalisation it may be said that the advocates of violence for the achievement of social or political ends are, for the most part, men of feeble, stunted growth, and are often physical cowards. If one of them be afflicted with deformity of body, the deformity of his mind will be correspondingly accentuated.
Let the mind roam back through the history of social convulsions and it will recall proofs of these statements almost without number. Rousseau, who sowed the seeds of the French revolution, was a meagre delicate creature, “a victim to sentimentalism, twin sister to Cant.” Marat, the “horse leech,” the most malignant spirit of his malignant age, was a crooked wisp of a fellow, soft spoken in private, and of skulking demeanor. Robespierre, “the sea green,” whom Carlyle coupled with Mirabeau as “the meanest and the grandest,” sent thousands to the guillotine, but guarded his own wretched life in fear and trembling. Lewes describes him as “a little man, with a feeble frame, sharpened physiognomy, the brow compressed on both sides; his mouth long, pale and compressed; his voice hoarse in the lower and discordant in the higher tones.” He was bilious and melancholy; as a boy and youth he dreaded to play at rough games; he wrote erotic verses, and once in his early years he cried over the death of a pigeon. Mirabeau and Danton, the big-bodied fellows, had a little human kindness. Pierre Joseph Proudhon, “the father of anarchy,” who held that anarchy “was the culmination of social progress,” and that the prosperity was theft, was weak, undersized and nervously apprehensive of danger. George Sorel, the French revolutionary Socialist, who writes of violence to-day, is said to be hardly more than a mannikin.
Courage is in great measure the effect of conscious strength. These human jackals may put on the lion’s skin, because they are painfully conscious of their own weakness, and have the profound admiration of the weak for the lion’s boldness. Men take pains to resemble what they most admire. They often envy the very qualities which they most lack, and are at pains to assume them. It is notable, too, how mental and moral qualities and peculiarities hark back to the physical. The master of fiction gives the empoisoned wretch who houses a devil within his breast a hunchback or a club foot. Dickens imagined a Quilp and Victor Hugo a Quasimodo. Dyspepsia, anarchy and revolutionary socialism run in a unicorn team. Nearly all the revolutionaries of history, small spare men, were martyrs to indigestion. Their minds and tempers were soured along with
their stomachs. The big, broad-chested, breezy man, who lives in the open air, whose organs are all healthy and have a full play, has an outlook on life wholesome and cheerful. To him the world is never a bad place. His bodily vigor, his capacity for enjoying such good things as come in his way, although the supply be small, save him from any tendency to destroy and reform. It was Cassius, with the lean and hungry look, who thought too much, of whom Caesar was afraid. He wanted the company of men who were fat and sleek and “slept o’ nights.” Thus, when we can breed sounder bodies and put every frame that suffers from malnutrition through a course of physical culture, with wholesome feeding, there will be fewer distorted brains and fewer mischief makers. The crippled cobbler, whose stomach is ruined and whose shoulders are humped by close sitting over his last in a deadly atmosphere, is the most distempered political revolutionary. Discontent of the wrong kind—that which seeks to destroy rather than improve—springs eternal where nature shows her inferior handiwork and the conditions of life are an aggravation.
The smaller fry of the “Bloss” type, who abound in places like the Sydney Domain and the Yarra-bank, include a vast proportion of those whom nature has endowed with misery hand. The revolutionary with the most shrunken physique is always the fiercest and most irreconcilable. When he offends the crowd and there is a movement of protest, he shrinks with fear, and furtively looks about him with startled eyes, as if seeking a path of escape. Because of his palsy he becomes even more violent, as if, poor wretch, he thought that others might be made subject to his own terrors.
Some time ago a peaceable citizen heard that an upstairs room in a city dwelling as a meeting place for a society of Anarchists. With some misgivings—he was only about 12 stone in weight, and did not claim much courage—he decided to put on a red necktie and attend. In imagination he saw a gathering of desperados, with black, flashing eyes, raking athletic frames, looking and talking vitriol, each with a poniard up his sleeve and an automatic pistol in his hip pocket. He was determined to be very self-repressive and civil, but for fear of eventualities he tried to remember the wrestling grips recommended for use when one is attacked with a knife. He walked up a dark, creaking staircase in trepidation, and knocked at a frail door.
Seated round a rough deal table on boxes and backless chairs were seven or eight men. The visitor thought he had come to the wrong place. They were poor, attenuated, ill-groomed little fellows, averaging not more than 9 stone in weight. At his entrance they smirked and smiled a welcome.
“Could you kindly tell me where the Anarchists’ Society meets?”
“This is it,” said a mild blue-eyed, pale-whiskered little fellow, in a slender treble; “we haven’t started yet; they’re not all here.”
They engaged in friendly conversation while waiting.
“What’s the matter with your finger, Ponto?” asked one of another, whose hand was swathed with a dirty handkerchief.
“I cut it with my pen knife yesterday,” answered Ponto; “and I’m afraid it’s gathering. I didn’t have a wink of sleep all last night with it.”
When two more Anarchists climbed the stairs—one a cadaverous, long streak, with big moustaches, and the other like a valet—the proceedings began with a wretched chorus of an Anarchists’ “hymn”—
The sight of these meek tousled inefficients raising their piping voices in brutal sentiments like these so affected the visitor that he couldn’t sing a note.
A discussion arose about “expropriation” and the best way in which those present could employ physical force to hasten “the coming revolution.”
The wistful little chap with the cut finger said that Anarchists were of two kinds—active and passive. He was an “active,” and he complained bitterly that many were passive. Just then there was a violent commotion at the rickety door, which flew open. A pinched, undersized, slatternly woman bounded into the room, brandishing a pot stick.
She glared upon the chairman and rattled her pot stick on the table. “Where’s my rent, eh? Where’s my rent, you loafers? If you don’t pay me now, I’ll trash every one of you within an inch of your lives. Come on, out with it! You’d rob—”
“Pardon me, madam,” soothingly said the man with the bandaged finger; “if you—”
The pot stick descended on his bandage and sent him hopping and howling with bent body and folded arms. The lady grew so hysterical and dangerous that the visitor felt compelled at last to hold her by the wrists while the violent desperadoes made their escape. Then he paid the rent, which amounted to only 4/, feeling that the experience was well worth the money.
It is the freak who nurtures violent freakish ideas. If we look at the other type of little men—those with brains and vitals sound and powerful beyond proportion to their frames and muscles—we shall find that they have done more than their fair share in influencing and ruling the world.
The Age, (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) 20 May, 1916.