Maxim Gorky on Romain Rolland, war and humanism
From About Romain Rolland (1926)
Translated by Olga Shartse
There never was, I believe, an epoch when people in Europe lived in as tragic a state of helplessness, self-abnegation and lack of faith as they are living in now, blinded by the horrors of the slaughter of 1914-1918…
Can one find a period in the past when people worked so strenuously, with such absorption, on devising means of mutual extermination? And there was never an epoch so wretchedly poor in attempts to create an ideology of humanism, and of charity. In our days of dehumanization it is actually considered mauvais ton to speak of humanism. And if, from habit, it is anyway shouted: “Take pity on man,” it is shouted with hatred and a threat of vengeance.
Sinister days. The hollow sounds of destruction are heard everywhere, and there is much spiteful sadness everywhere…
People say that Romain Rolland is a Don Quixote. To my mind that’s the best thing that one can say about anybody. In the great game played by the forces of history with no compassion for us people, a man who craves fairness is also a force, and as such he is capable of opposing the spontaneity of this game.
Romain Rolland was the first writer in Europe to raise his voice against the war. He was hated by many for it. No wonder – who can love a man for the truth?
In L’âme enchantée his heart tells him that soon another, kinder truth the world has long needed will be born. He feels that a new woman will be born to replace the one that is now helping to destroy this world – a woman who understands that she must stimulate culture and therefore she wants to enter the world proudly as its lawful mistress, the mother of men created by her and answerable to her for their acts.
To Maxim Gorky (1917)
Translated by Eden and Cedar Paul
At Geneva, in January, 1917, A. V. Lunacharski delivered a lecture on the life and works of Maxim Gorki. The following tribute to Gorki was read before the lecture.
About fifteen years ago, in Paris, Charles Péguy, myself, and a few others, used to meet in a little ground-floor shop in the rue de la Sorbonne. We had just founded the “Cahiers de la Quinzaine.” Our editorial office was poorly furnished, neat and clean; the walls were lined with books. A photograph was the only ornament. It showed Tolstoy and Gorki standing side by side in the garden at Yasnaya Polyana. How had Péguy got hold of it? I do not know, but he had had several reproductions made, and each of us had on his desk the picture of these two distant comrades. Under their eyes part of Jean Christophe was written.
One of the two men, the veteran apostle, has gone, on the eve of the European catastrophe whose coming he foretold and in which his voice has been so greatly needed. The other, Maxim Gorki, is at his post, and his free-spirited utterances help to console us for Tolstoy’s silence.
Gorki has not proved one of those who succumbed to the vertigo of events. Amid the distressing spectacle of the thousands of writers, artists, and thinkers who, within a few days, laid down their role as guides and defenders of the masses, to follow the maddened herds, to drive these herds yet more crazy by their own cries, to hasten the rush into the abyss, Maxim Gorki was one of the rare exceptions, one of those whose reason and whose love of humanity remained unshaken. He dared to speak on behalf of the persecuted, on behalf of the gagged and enslaved masses. This great artist, who shared for so long the life of the unfortunate, of the humble, of the victims, of the outcasts of society, has never denied his sometime companions. Having become famous, he turns back to them, throwing the powerful light of his art into the dark places where wretchedness and social injustice are hidden away. His generous soul has known suffering; he does not close his eyes to the sufferings of others.
Haud ignara mali, miseris succurrere disco…
Consequently, in these days of trial (trial which we greet, because it has taught us to take stock of ourselves, to estimate the true value of hearts and of thoughts), in these days when freedom of the spirit is everywhere oppressed, we must cry aloud our homage to Maxim Gorki. Across the battlefields, across the trenches, across a bleeding Europe, we stretch forth our hands to him. Henceforward, in face of the hatred which rages among the nations, we must affirm the union of New Europe. To the fighting “Holy Alliances” of the governments, we counterpose the brotherhood of the free spirits of the world!