Prompted by a Look
In Hawthorne’s romance, “The
Marble Faun,” after Donatello has flung the Capuchin monk over the
precipice of the Capitoline Hill, occurs this passage:
“What have you done?” said Miriam,
in a horror-stricken whisper.
The glow of rage was still lurid on
Donatello’s face, and now flashed out again in his eyes. “I did
what ought to be done to a traitor!” he replied. “I did what your
eyes bade me do, when I asked them with mine, as I held the wretch
over the precipice!”
These last words struck Miriam like
a bullet. Could it be so? Had her eyes provoked or assented to this
deed? She had not known it. But, alas! looking back into the frenzy
and turmoil of the scene just acted, she could not deny—she was
not sure whether it might be so or no—that a wild joy had flamed
up in her heart, when she beheld her persecutor in his mortal peril.
Was it horror?—or ecstasy?—or both in one? Be the emotion what it
might, it had blazed up more madly when Donatello flung his victim
off the cliff, and more and more, while his shriek went quivering
downward. With the dead thump upon the stones below had come an
unutterable horror. “And my eyes bade you do it?” repeated she.
And then, after a little, she knew that she had prompted a deed
which knotted them together for time and eternity like the coils
of a serpent.
The prompting to crime, to assassination,
whence is it? Hawthorne’s fine description of the silent prompting
of Miriam’s silent look becomes a closer portrayal of the truth
the more one reads it. The flaming appeal of the anarchist is not
necessary to vitalize the arm which wields the destroying weapon
of the assassin. In this country there are smooth statesmen who
have wrought the English language into all fantastic shapes in depicting
other men whom they declare to be enemies of the people and bent
upon using every device to enslave and tyrannize over them and rob
them of their rights. They do not say these should be taken out
of the way. They do not call for blood. But they use language for
all it is worth and expression for all it is worth to prompt others
to cultivate the spirit which in its blossoming spells assassination.
Emma Goldman has used no stronger
language to prompt assassination than many an American politician
used last year to disparage McKinley and hold him up for public
objurgation. These were so many Miriams who gave looks, if they
did not give daggers and pistols to those they prompted. They all
belong to a greater or lesser degree to that “confraternity of guilty
ones, all shuddering at each other.” Their victim lies to-day pale
in death and with burial chants intoned in sobbing minors about
him. Are they affrighted by their work? They may well be affrighted.
Are they silent now? They may well be silent and keep silent forever