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The Iron Heel
By JACK LONDON
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1907 Jack London
All rights reserved.
The soft summer wind stirs the redwoods, and Wild-Water ripples sweet cadences over its mossy stones. There are butterflies in the sunshine, and from everywhere arises the drowsy hum of bees. It is so quiet and peaceful, and I sit here, and ponder, and am restless. It is the quiet that makes me restless. It seems unreal. All the world is quiet, but it is the quiet before the storm. I strain my ears, and all my senses, for some betrayal of that impending storm. Oh, that it may not be premature! That it may not be premature!
Small wonder that I am restless. I think, and think, and I cannot cease from thinking. I have been in the thick of life so long that I am oppressed by the peace and quiet, and I cannot forbear from dwelling upon that mad maelstrom of death and destruction so soon to burst forth. In my ears are the cries of the stricken; and I can see, as I have seen in the past, all the marring and mangling of the sweet, beautiful flesh, and the souls torn with violence from proud bodies and hurled to God. Thus do we poor humans attain our ends, striving through carnage and destruction to bring lasting peace and happiness upon the earth.
And then I am lonely. When I do not think of what is to come, I think of what has been and is no more—my Eagle, beating with tireless wings the void, soaring toward what was ever his sun, the flaming ideal of human freedom. I cannot sit idly by and wait the great event that is his making, though he is not here to see. He devoted all the years of his manhood to it, and for it he gave his life. It is his handiwork. He made it.
And so it is, in this anxious time of waiting, that I shall write of my husband. There is much light that I alone of all persons living can throw upon his character, and so noble a character cannot be blazoned forth too brightly. His was a great soul, and, when my love grows unselfish, my chiefest regret is that he is not here to witness tomorrow's dawn. We cannot fail. He has built too stoutly and too surely for that. Woe to the Iron Heel! Soon shall it be thrust back from off prostrate humanity. When the word goes forth, the labour hosts of all the world shall rise. There has been nothing like it in the history of the world. The solidarity of labour is assured, and for the first time will there be an international revolution wide as the world is wide.
You see, I am full of what is impending. I have lived it day and night utterly and for so long that it is ever present in my mind. For that matter, I cannot think of my husband without thinking of it. He was the soul of it, and how can I possibly separate the two in thought?
As I have said, there is much light that I alone can throw upon his character. It is well known that he toiled hard for liberty and suffered sore. How hard he toiled and how greatly he suffered, I well know; for I have been with him during these twenty anxious years, and I know his patience, his untiring effort, his infinite devotion to the Cause for which, only two months gone, he laid down his life.
I shall try to write simply and to tell here how Ernest Everhard entered my life—how I first met him, how he grew until I became a part of him, and the tremendous changes he wrought in my life. In this way you may look at him through my eyes and learn him as I learned him—in all save the things too secret and sweet for me to tell.
It was in February 1012 that I first met him, when, as a guest of my father's at dinner, he came to our house in Berkeley. I cannot say that my very first impression of him was favourable. He was one of many at dinner, and in the drawing-room, where we gathered and waited for all to arrive, he made a rather incongruous appearance. It was 'preacher's night', as my father privately called it, and Ernest was certainly out of place in the midst of the churchmen.
In the first place his clothes did not fit him. He wore a ready-made suit of dark cloth, that was ill adjusted to his body. In fact, no ready-made suit of clothes ever could fit his body. And on this night, as always, the cloth bulged with his muscles, while the coat between the shoulders, what with the heavy shoulder-development, was a maze of wrinkles. His neck was the neck of a prizefighter, thick and strong. So this was the social philosopher and ex-horseshoer my father had discovered, was my thought. And he certainly looked it, with those bulging muscles and that bull-throat. Immediately I classified him—a sort of prodigy, I thought, a Blind Tom of the working class.
And then, when he shook hands with me! His handshake was firm and strong, but he looked at me boldly with his black eyes—too boldly, I thought. You see, I was a creature of environment, and at that time had strong class instincts. Such boldness on the part of a man of my own class would have been almost unforgivable. I know that I could not avoid dropping my eyes, and I was quite relieved when I passed him on and turned to greet Bishop Morehouse—a favourite of mine, a sweet and serious man of middle age, Christ-like in appearance and goodness, and a scholar as well.
But this boldness that I took to be presumption was a vital clue to the nature of Ernest Everhard. He was simple, direct, afraid of nothing, and he refused to waste time on conventional mannerisms. 'You pleased me,' he explained long afterward; 'nd why should I not fill my eyes with that which pleases me?' I have said that he was afraid of nothing. He was a natural aristocrat—and this in spite of the fact that he was in the camp of the non-aristocrats. He was a superman, a blond beast such as Nietzsche has described, and in addition he was aflame with democracy.
In the interest of meeting the other guests, and what of my unfavourable impression, I forgot all about the working-class philosopher, though once or twice at dinner I noticed him—especially the twinkle in his eye as he listened to the talk first of one minister and then of another. He has humour, I thought, and I almost forgave him his clothes. But the time went by, and the dinner went by, and he never opened his mouth to speak, while the ministers talked interminably about the working class and its relation to the Church, and what the Church had done and was doing for it. I noticed that my father was annoyed because Ernest did not talk. Once father took advantage of a lull and asked him to say something; but Ernest shrugged his shoulders and with an 'I have nothing to say' went on eating salted almonds.
But father was not to be denied. After a while he said:
'We have with us a member of the working class. I am sure that he can present things from a new point of view that will be interesting and refreshing. I refer to Mr Everhard.'
The others betrayed a well-mannered interest, and urged Ernest for a statement of his views. Their attitude towards him was so broadly tolerant and kindly that it was really patronising. And I saw that Ernest noted it and was amused. He looked slowly about him, and I saw the glint of laughter in his eyes.
'I am not versed in the courtesies of ecclesiastical controversy,' he began, and then hesitated with modesty and indecision.
'Go on,' they urged, and Dr Hammerfield said: 'We do not mind the truth that is in any man. If it is sincere,' he amended.
'Then you separate sincerity from truth?' Ernest laughed quickly.
Dr Hammerfield gasped, and managed to answer, 'The best of us may be mistaken, young man, the best of us.'
Ernest's manner changed on the instant. He became another man.
'All right, then,' he answered; 'and let me begin by saying that you are all mistaken. You know nothing, and worse than nothing, about the working class. Your sociology is as vicious and worthless as is your method of thinking.'
It was not so much what he said as how he said it. I roused at the first sound of his voice. It was as bold as his eyes. It was a clarion-call that thrilled me. And the whole table was aroused, shaken alive from monotony and drowsiness.
'What is so dreadfully vicious and worthless in our method of thinking, young man?' Dr Hammerfield demanded, and already there was something unpleasant in his voice and manner of utterance.
'You are metaphysicians. You can prove anything by metaphysics; and having done so, every metaphysician can prove every other metaphysician wrong—to his own satisfaction. You are anarchists in the realm of thought. And you are mad cosmos-makers. Each of you dwells in a cosmos of his own making, created out of his own fancies and desires. You do not know the real world in which you live, and your thinking has no place in the real world except in so far as it is phenomena of mental aberration.
'Do you know what I was reminded of as I sat at table and listened to you talk and talk? You reminded me for all the world of the scholastics of the Middle Ages who gravely and learnedly debated the absorbing question of how many angels could dance on the point of a needle. Why, my dear sirs, you are as remote from the intellectual life of the twentieth century as an Indian medicine man making incantation in the primeval forest ten thousand years ago.'
As Ernest talked he seemed in a fine passion; his face glowed, his eyes snapped and flashed, and his chin and jaw were eloquent with aggressiveness. But it was only a way he had. It always aroused people. His smashing, sledgehammer manner of attack invariably made them forget themselves. And they were forgetting themselves now. Bishop Morehouse was leaning forward and listening intently. Exasperation and anger were flushing the face of Dr Hammerfield. And others were exasperated, too, and some were smiling in an amused and superior way. As for myself, I found it most enjoyable. I glanced at father, and I was afraid he was going to giggle at the effect of this human bombshell he had been guilty of launching amongst us.
'Your terms are rather vague,' Dr Hammerfield interrupted. 'Just precisely what do you mean when you call us metaphysicians?'
'I call you metaphysicians because you reason metaphysically,' Ernest went on. 'Your method of reasoning is the opposite to that of science. There is no validity to your conclusions. You can prove everything and nothing, and no two of you can agree upon anything. Each of you goes into his own consciousness to explain himself and the universe. As well may you lift yourselves by your own boot-straps as to explain consciousness by consciousness.'
'I do not understand,' Bishop Morehouse said. 'It seems to me that all things of the mind are metaphysical. That most exact and convincing of all sciences, mathematics, is sheerly metaphysical. Each and every thought-process of the scientific reasoner is metaphysical. Surely you will agree with me?'
'As you say, you do not understand,' Ernest replied. 'The metaphysician reasons deductively out of his own subjectivity. The scientist reasons inductively from the facts of experience. The metaphysician reasons from theory to facts, the scientist reasons from facts to theory. The metaphysician explains the universe by himself, the scientist explains himself by the universe.'
'Thank God we are not scientists,' Dr Hammerfield murmured complacently.
'What are you, then?' Ernest demanded.
'There you go,' Ernest laughed. 'You have left the real and solid earth and are up in the air with a word for a flying machine. Pray come down to earth and tell me precisely what you do mean by philosophy.'
'Philosophy is—' (Dr Hammerfield paused and cleared his throat) 'something that cannot be defined comprehensively except to such minds and temperaments as are philosophical. The narrow scientist with his nose in a test-tube cannot understand philosophy.'
Ernest ignored the thrust. It was always his way to turn the point back upon an opponent, and he did it now, with a beaming brotherliness of face and utterance.
'Then you will undoubtedly understand the definition I shall now make of philosophy. But before I make it, I shall challenge you to point out error in it or to remain a silent metaphysician. Philosophy is merely the widest science of all. Its reasoning method is the same as that of any particular science and of all particular sciences. And by that same method of reasoning, the inductive method, philosophy fuses all particular sciences into one great science. As Spencer says, the data of any particular science are partially unified knowledge. Philosophy unifies the knowledge that is contributed by all the sciences. Philosophy is the science of science, the master science, if you please. How do you like my definition?'
'Very creditable, very creditable,' Dr Hammerfield muttered lamely.
But Ernest was merciless.
'Remember,' he warned, 'my definition is fatal to metaphysics. If you do not now point out a flaw in my definition, you are disqualified later on from advancing metaphysical arguments. You must go through life seeking that flaw and remaining metaphysically silent until you have found it.'
Ernest waited. The silence was painful. Dr Hammerfield was pained. He was also puzzled. Ernest's sledgehammer attack disconcerted him. He was not used to the simple and direct method of controversy. He looked appealingly around the table, but no one answered for him. I caught father grinning into his napkin.
'There is another way of disqualifying the metaphysicians,' Ernest said, when he had rendered Dr Hammerfield's discomfiture complete. 'Judge them by their works. What have they done for mankind beyond the spinning of airy fancies and the mistaking of their own shadows for gods? They have added to the gaiety of mankind, I grant; but what tangible good have they wrought for mankind? They philosophised, if you will pardon my misuse of the word, about the heart as the seat of the emotions, while the scientists were formulating the circulation of the blood. They declaimed about famine and pestilence as being scourges of God, while the scientists were building granaries and draining cities. They builded gods in their own shapes and out of their own desires, while the scientists were building roads and bridges. They were describing the earth as the centre of the universe, while the scientists were discovering America and probing space for the stars and the laws of the stars. In short, the metaphysicians have done nothing, absolutely nothing, for mankind. Step by step, before the advance of science, they have been driven back. As fast as the ascertained facts of science have overthrown their subjective explanations of things, they have made new subjective explanations of things, including explanations of the latest ascertained facts. And this, I doubt not, they will go on doing to the end of time. Gentlemen, a metaphysician is a medicine man. The difference between you and the Eskimo who makes a fur-clad, blubber-eating god is merely a difference of several thousand years of ascertained facts. That is all.'
'Yet the thought of Aristotle ruled Europe for twelve centuries,' Dr Ballingford announced pompously. 'And Aristotle was a metaphysician.'
Dr Ballingford glanced around the table, and was awarded by nods and smiles of approval.
'Your illustration is most unfortunate,' Ernest replied. 'You refer to a very dark period in human history. In fact we call that period the Dark Ages. A period wherein science was raped by the metaphysicians, wherein physics became a search for the Philosopher's Stone, wherein chemistry became alchemy, and astronomy became astrology. Sorry the domination of Aristotle's thought!'
Dr Ballingford looked pained, then he brightened up and said:
'Granted this horrible picture you have drawn, yet you must confess that metaphysics was inherently potent in so far as it drew humanity out of this dark period and on into the illumination of the succeeding centuries.'
'Metaphysics had nothing to do with it,' Ernest retorted.
'What?' Dr Hammerfield cried. 'It was not the thinking and the speculation that led to the voyages of discovery?'
'Ah, my dear sir,' Ernest smiled, 'I thought you were disqualified. You have not yet picked out the flaw in my definition of philosophy. You are now on an unsubstantial basis. But it is the way of the metaphysicians, and I forgive you. No, I repeat, metaphysics had nothing to do with it. Bread and butter, silks and jewels, dollars and cents, and, incidentally, the closing up of the overland trade-routes to India, were the things that caused the voyages of discovery. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Turks blocked the way of the caravans to India. The traders of Europe had to find another route. Here was the original cause for the voyages of discovery. Columbus sailed to find a new route to the Indies. It is so stated in all the history books. Incidentally, new facts were learned about the nature, size, and form of the earth, and the Ptolemaic system went glimmering.'
Excerpted from The Iron Heel by JACK LONDON. Copyright © 1907 Jack London. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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