Dec 20, 1901.
I know how your visit and my strange
behavior have affected you. . . . The sight
of your face after all these years completely unnerved me. I could
not think, I could not speak. It was as if all my dreams of freedom,
the whole world of the living, were concentrated in the shiny little
trinket that was dangling from your watch chain. . .
. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, I couldn’t keep my
hand from playing with it. It absorbed my whole being. . .
. And all the time I felt how nervous you were at my
silence, and I couldn’t utter a word.
Perhaps it would have been better
for us not to have seen each other under the present conditions.
It was lucky they did not recognize you: they took you for my “sister,”
though I believe your identity was suspected after you had left.
You would surely not have been permitted the visit, had the old
Warden been here. He was ill at the time. He never got over the
shock of the tunnel, and finally he has been persuaded by the prison
physician (who has secret aspirations to the Wardenship) that the
anxieties of his position are a menace to his advanced age. Considerable
dissatisfaction has also developed of late against the Warden among
the Inspectors. Well, he has resigned at last, thank goodness! The
prisoners have been praying for it for years, and some of the boys
on the range celebrated the event by getting drunk on wood alcohol.
The new Warden has just assumed charge, and we hope for improvement.
He is a physician by profession, with the title of Major in the
It was entirely uncalled for on the
part of the officious friend, whoever he may have been, to cause
you unnecessary worry over my health, and my renewed persecution.
You remember that in July the new Inspector released me from the
strait-jacket and assigned me to work on the range. But I was locked
up again in October, after the McKinley incident. The President
of the Board of Inspectors was at the time in New York. He inquired
by wire what I was doing. Upon being informed that I was working
on the range, he ordered me into solitary. The new Warden, on assuming
office, sent for me. “They give you a bad reputation,” he said;
“but I  will let you out
of the cell if you’ll promise to do what is right by me.” He spoke
brusquely, in the manner of a man closing a business deal, with
the power of dictating terms. He reminded me of Bismarck at Versailles.
Yet he did not seem unkind; the thought of escape was probably in
his mind. But the new law has germinated the hope of survival; my
weakened condition and the unexpected shortening of my sentence
have at last decided me to abandon the idea of escape. I therefore
replied to the Warden: “I will do what is right by you, if you treat
me right.” Thereupon he assigned me to work on the range.
It is almost like liberty to have the freedom of the cell-house
after the close solitary.
And you, dear friend? In your letters
I feel how terribly torn you are by the events of the recent months.
I lived in great fear for your safety, and I can barely credit the
good news that you are at liberty. It seems almost a miracle.
I followed the newspapers with great
anxiety. The whole country seemed to be swept with the fury of revenge.
To a considerable extent the press fanned the fires of persecution.
Here in the prison very little sincere grief was manifested. Out
of hearing of the guards, the men passed very uncomplimentary remarks
about the dead president. The average prisoner corresponds to the
average citizen—their patriotism is very passive, except when stimulated
by personal interest, or artificially excited. But if the press
mirrored the sentiment of the people, the Nation must have suddenly
relapsed into cannibalism. There were moments when I was in mortal
dread for your very life, and for the safety of the other arrested
comrades. In previous letters you hinted that it was official rivalry
and jealousy, and your absence from New York, to which you owe your
release. You may be right; yet I believe that your attitude of proud
self-respect and your admirable self-control contributed much to
the result. You were splendid, dear; and I was especially moved
by your remark that you would faithfully nurse the wounded man,
if he required your services, but that the poor boy, condemned and
deserted by all, needed and deserved your sympathy and aid more
than the president. More strikingly than your letters, that remark
discovered to me the great change wrought in us by the ripening
years. Yes, in us, in both, for my heart echoed your beautiful sentiment.
How impossible such a thought would have been to us in the days
of a decade ago! We should have 
considered it treason to the spirit of revolution; it would have
outraged all our traditions even to admit the humanity of an official
representative of capitalism. Is it not very significant that we
two—you living in the very heart of Anarchist thought and activity,
and I in the atmosphere of absolute suppression and solitude—should
have arrived at the same evolutionary point after a decade of divergent
You have alluded in a recent letter
to the ennobling and broadening influence of sorrow. Yet not upon
every one does it exert a similar effect. Some natures grow embittered,
and shrink with the poison of misery. I often wonder at my lack
of bitterness and enmity, even against the old Warden—and surely
I have good cause to hate him. Is it because of greater maturity?
I rather think it is temperamentally conditioned. The love of the
people, the hatred of oppression of our younger days, vital as these
sentiments were with us, were mental rather than emotional. Fortunately
so, I think. For those like Fedya and Lewis and Pauline, and numerous
others, soon have their emotionally inflated idealism punctured
on the thorny path of the social protestant. Only aspirations that
spontaneously leap from the depths of our soul persist in the face
of antagonistic forces. The revolutionist is born. Beneath our love
and hatred of former days lay inherent rebellion, and the passionate
desire for liberty and life.
In the long years of isolation I have
looked deeply into my heart. With open mind and sincere purpose,
I have revised every emotion and every thought. Away from my former
atmosphere and the disturbing influence of the world’s turmoil,
I have divested myself of all traditions and accepted beliefs. I
have studied the sciences and the humanities, contemplated life,
and pondered over human destiny. For weeks and months I would be
absorbed in the domain of “pure reason,” or discuss with Leibnitz
the question of free will, and seek to penetrate, beyond Spencer,
into the Unknowable. Political science and economics, law and criminology—I
studied them with unprejudiced mind, and sought to slacken my soul’s
thirst by delving deeply into religion and theology, seeking the
“Key to Life” at the feet of Mrs. Eddy, expectantly listening for
the voice of the disembodied, studying Koreshanity and Theosophy,
absorbing the prana of knowledge and power, and concentrating
upon the wisdom of the Yogi. And after years of contemplation and
 study, chastened by much
sorrow and suffering, I arise from the broken fetters of the world’s
folly and delusions, to behold the threshold of a new life of liberty
and equality. My youth’s ideal of a free humanity in the vague future
has become clarified and crystallized into the living truth of Anarchy,
as the sustaining elemental force of my every-day existence.
Often I have wondered in the years
gone by, was not wisdom dear at the price of enthusiasm? At 30 one
is not so reckless, not so fanatical and one-sided as at 20. With
maturity we become more universal; but life is a Shylock that cannot
be cheated of his due. For every lesson it teaches us, we have a
wound or a scar to show. We grow broader; but too often the heart
contracts as the mind expands, and the fires are burning down while
we are learning. At such moments my mind would revert to the days
when the momentarily expected approach of the Social Revolution
absorbed our exclusive interest. The raging present and its conflicting
currents passed us by, while our eyes were riveted upon the Dawn,
in thrilling expectancy of the sunrise. Life and its manifold expressions
were vexatious to the spirit of revolt; and poetry, literature,
and art were scorned as hindrances to progress, unless they sounded
the tocsin of immediate revolution. Humanity was sharply divided
in two warring camps,—the noble People, the producers, who yearned
for the light of the new gospel, and the hated oppressors, the exploiters,
who craftily strove to obscure the rising day that was to give back
to man his heritage. If only “the good People” were given an opportunity
to hear the great truth, how joyfully they would embrace Anarchy
and walk in triumph into the promised land!
The splendid naivety of the days that
resented as a personal reflection the least misgiving of the future;
the enthusiasm that discounted the power of inherent prejudice and
predilection! Magnificent was the day of hearts on fire with the
hatred of oppression and the love of liberty! Woe indeed to the
man or the people whose soul never warmed with the spark of Prometheus,—for
it is youth that has climbed the heights. . .
. But maturity has clarified the way, and the stupendous task
of human regeneration will be accomplished only by the purified
vision of hearts that grow not cold.
And you, my dear friend, with the
deeper insight of time, you have yet happily kept your heart young.
I have rejoiced  at it in
your letters of recent years, and it is especially evident from
the sentiments you have expressed regarding the happening at Buffalo.
I share your view entirely; for that very reason, it is the more
distressing to disagree with you in one very important particular:
the value of Leon’s act. I know the terrible ordeal you have passed
through, the fiendish persecution to which you have been subjected.
Worse than all must have been to you the general lack of understanding
for such phenomena; and, sadder yet, the despicable attitude of
some would-be radicals in denouncing the man and his act. But I
am confident you will not mistake my expressed disagreement for
We need not discuss the phase of the
Attentat which manifested the rebellion of a tortured soul,
the individual protest against social wrong. Such phenomena are
the natural result of evil conditions, as inevitable as the flooding
of the river banks by the swelling mountain torrents. But I cannot
agree with you regarding the social value of Leon’s act.
I have read of the beautiful personality
of the youth, of his inability to adapt himself to brutal conditions,
and the rebellion of his soul. It throws a significant light upon
the causes of the Attentat. Indeed, it is at once the greatest
tragedy of martyrdom, and the most terrible indictment of society,
that it forces the noblest men and women to shed human blood, though
their souls shrink from it. But the more imperative it is that drastic
methods of this character be resorted to only as a last extremity.
To prove of value, they must be motived by social rather than individual
necessity, and be directed against a real and immediate enemy of
the people. The significance of such a deed is understood by the
popular mind—and in that alone is the propagandistic, educational
importance of an Attentat, except if it is exclusively an
act of terrorism.
Now, I do not believe that this deed
was terroristic; and I doubt whether it was educational, because
the social necessity for its performance was not manifest. That
you may not misunderstand, I repeat: as an expression of personal
revolt it was inevitable, and in itself an indictment of existing
conditions. But the background of social necessity was lacking,
and therefore the value of the act was to a great extent nullified.
In Russia, where political oppression
is popularly felt,  such
a deed would be of great value. But the scheme of political subjection
is more subtle in America. And though McKinley was the chief representative
of our modern slavery, he could not be considered in the light of
a direct and immediate enemy of the people; while in an absolutism,
the autocrat is visible and tangible. The real despotism of republican
institutions is far deeper, more insidious, because it rests on
the popular delusion of self-government and independence. That is
the subtle source of democratic tyranny, and, as such, it cannot
be reached with a bullet.
In modern capitalism, exploitation
rather than oppression is the real enemy of the people. Oppression
is but its handmaid. Hence the battle is to be waged in the economic
rather than the political field. It is therefore that I regard my
own act as far more significant and educational than Leon’s. It
was directed against a tangible, real oppressor, visualized as such
by the people.
As long as misery and tyranny fill
the world, social contrasts and consequent hatreds will persist,
and the noblest of the race—our Czolgoszes—burst forth in “rockets
of iron.” But does this lightning really illumine the social horizon,
or merely confuse minds with the succeeding darkness? The struggle
of labor against capital is a class war, essentially and chiefly
economic. In that arena the battles must be fought.
It was not these considerations, of
course, that inspired the nation-wide man-hunt, or the attitude
even of alleged radicals. Their cowardice has filled me with loathing
and sadness. The brutal farce of the trial, the hypocrisy of the
whole proceeding, the thirst for the blood of the martyr,—these
make one almost despair of humanity.
I must close. The friend to smuggle
out this letter will be uneasy about its bulk. Send me sign of receipt,
and I hope that you may be permitted a little rest and peace, to
recover from the nightmare of the last months.