Here I Draw the Line

Mr. Pentecost presumes, in the Twentieth Century, that, when I say I know no way of helping Moses Harman out of prison, I mean that I cannot consistently recognize the Government by petitioning for Mr. Harman’s release. This interpretation of my thought reminds me that my interpreter once said that he was astonished to think how long he read Liberty before it dawned upon him what its teaching meant. It evidently isn’t sun-up with Mr. Pentecost yet, if he fancies that I am influenced by the spook of obligation to treat the government as possessed of rights which I am bound to respect. I would not only sign the petition for Harman’s release, but I would sign a thousand such petitions, and each of the thousand a thousand times, and would add to my own name a million fictitious names, if I thought that by any or all of these acts there was one chance in a billion of getting Mr. Harman out of prison. And even as it is, if such a petition should be presented for my signature, I should not neglect the infinitesimal possibility. It will thus be seen that Mr. Pentecost’s presumption is astoundingly inaccurate. My real meaning was that the petition will prove utterly useless.

Nevertheless the presumption served well enough to lead to an attack on my private conduct and a questioning of my private motives which overstep the limits of legitimate public criticism. Mr. Pentecost, being abundantly conscious of the impropriety of this course, excuses it on the ground that Mr. Tucker is our teacher, and he is a truth-soldier, and he raises the Old Harry when any of the rest of us go astray. I call on Mr. Pentecost to name the instance when I have called any comrade to account for inconsistency between his life and his teachings. The inconsistency which I have attacked has not been the conflict between conduct and precept, but the conflict between a teacher’s thought and itself, and my object has been to arraign, not the individual for misdeed, but the teacher for error. Under this rule example becomes subject to criticism only when avowedly offered as an object-lesson. Now let me say once for all that I do not offer my life as a model. But I do offer my teachings as true. Whenever Mr. Pentecost shall point out error in the latter, I shall be grateful to him for the service. When he calls attention to spots upon the former, I simply try not to answer him impolitely.

It must not be inferred from the above that the offence charged in this instance—the copyright of my translation of The Kreutzer Sonata—is here admitted to be a spot in the sense of a stain. Viewed from the summit of the ideal life, it was an act of robbery; viewed from the standpoint of existing exigencies, it was the wisest thing possible under the circumstances.