Once upon a time Emma Goldman was looked upon as the symbol of flaming revolution, as an haranguer who made thousands wild with sedition, as a peril to stable government and the capitalist system-the status quo, you know, when there was astatus quo. She fought against all the things right people believed in and fought for a lof of things that made people feel shudders down their backs. Even Socialists-especially Socialists sometimes-would feel shuders, when they weren’t sneering. She was Bad Emma and a menace. She believed in free love, was opposed to war and to capital punishment. Not only did she harangue, but she lectured on literature and the drama and published pieces in a paper called Earth, when the police and the postal authorites would let her. She lived her life as the symbol of revolt and spoke and lived with the utter freedom which she advocated for all of humanity. She made people believed because she believed. Wherever and whenever there was an industrial disturbance Bad Emma was blamed, at fact. As a pacifist, she opposed least as an accessory before the American entrance into the World War and fought the draft. She fought the draft so hard that she, and her pal, Alexander Berkman, went to jail for it and after they got out were deported.
Now she has come back. She has come back for a ninety-day visit and on a promise to be as good as she can be. This means that she shall not discuss polities with newspapermen, or from the lecture platform, or with impunity. Maybe before the niney-day leave is up she will know whether she wants the leave extended, or whether she wants to rush back to her home in the Riviera fishing village. She came into the United States from Canada on a visa issued to Mrs. James Calton, but probably not one in a multitude knows that that is her official name.
Mister James Colton is a Scotch miner, which makes her a subject of His Majesty, George V. This is only one of the many anomalies in her situation. Her place of birth was, when she was born in it, Russia; that part is now known as Lithuania. Because of the things she wrote and said about Russia-to which she was deported after her release from an American prison-she is no longer persona grata in anyh part of Russia. She is logically faithful to the tenets of her creed in opposing is a regimenting, and not a liberating, force. Not disired in the land of her birth, and exiled from the land of her adoption, the United States, her real home must be in France, although her legal allegiance is to Great Britain, as the wife of a Scotch miner. If she were not so active an intelligence, and if that intelligence did not play on so many instruments as it does, never allowing the mind to twiddle its thumbs, so to speak, she might be unhappy as an exile. I believe that she is essentially a sentimental woman who, having sublimated sentiment to an intellectual level, can honestly persuade herself that intelligence is dictating her ideas, when intelligence is engaged merely in rationalizing her feelings.
Listening to her the other day at the Astor, when she was answering the questions of several dozens of reporters, and noting with what an easy grace she held her own, it occurred to me that far ahead of her was also, in a way, several hundred years late. She should have conducted a salon in the Paris of Louis XIV or XV, and perhaps been banished to her country estate for speaking with a little too much vigor. It seemed to me, as I was listening to her wittily spoken answers, that I was listening to a salonniere who had an individualistic piont of view and could express it in phrases so short and so apt that even the discomfited questioner had to laugh. Of course this salonniere was talking in English and about matters which concerned the twentieth century of Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin and Trotzky, but with those differences the similarity was striking enough.
This impression may come as a shock to those who recall the Emma. Goldman who led strikes and inflamed antagonism to the war in 1917, and the average American who thinks of her at all thinks of her as ranting sedition from soap boxes. Everyone is persuaded as a matter of course that Emma Goldman spoke from soap boxes, because if she didn’t, who ever did? It came to me as a revelation the other day that Emma Goldman never soap box. A reporter asked her whether she had, and she said No. “Not,” she hastened to explain, “because I have any prejudice against soap boxes, but because my voice is too weak to carry in the open.” But she has spoken in churches, in at least one of them, and when one of the reporters implied, in a question, that speaking in church might be a violation of anarchistic principles, she bridled, ever so gently, and asked: “What’s the matter with the church? So long as I say what I please, what difference does it make where I say it?” She added, regretfully, that her church talk cost the clergyman who had extended the invitation his post, but one of the reporters-it was rather a superior collection of reporter, a cut higher than the ship news men-assured her that that clergyman was not in urgent economic need. (Incidentally, when one of the reporters said “Mrs. Golman,” another whispered, “It’s Miss.”)
Emma Goldman said that once she was Bad Emma, now she is worse, even if she was here on a promise to be good, and I believe she proved it in her candid definttion of a philosophical anarc# as one who resembled a Chri# Scientist-one in short who was neither philosophical nor# an anarchist. I believe that she evidenced a gift for literary criticism when she expressed the opinion that Gorki’s recent panoramic historical novels were not up to snuff. His large canvases, she said, were failures compared to the things he had written on a smaller scale. As for James Joyce, she read him when he was prohibited, so that “Ulyussed” isn’t news to her.
A week from tonight Miss Goldman makes her first public appearance, at Mecca Temple, underthe chairmanship of the Rev. Eliot White. She speaks on the subject, “Living My Life,” which happens biography. The tittle, you see, makes the lecture literary, not political.