On Picket Duty.
Comrade Bailie’s article in this issue on Ireland’s Need of a Free Currency is suggestive. It certainly is none too early to begin to prepare that unhappy country to make the most of her freedom when she shall get it. The Irishman or Irish-American who devotes himself to that work will do his country immeasurable service. But Ireland’s situation is peculiar. Unlike all other civilized nations, her first and greatest need is free land, not free money. In America free land would do but little good unless preceded by free money. In Ireland it is just the reverse. There free money could do little unless preceded by free land. But Ireland, once her land is free, will offer a splendid opportunity for the introduction of free money. With no powerfully-entrenched financial interests to offer innumerable obstacles, freedom of banking would have a clear field and a fair trial. Let us hope, yes, let us work that the light may so spread in Erin that, when the opportunity comes, the intelligence and will to seize it shall not be lacking.
Another monopoly is threatened. At present, as is well known, Wagner’s Parsifal can be performed only at Bayreuth. The music-drama is Madame Wagner’s property, and she refuses to allow any one else to produce it. But in Austria, it seems, every copyrighted work becomes free ten years after the author’s death. Next year, therefore, Parsifal can be performed in Austria by any one who chooses. Madame Wagner is moving heaven and earth to secure the passage of a new law in Austria in the interest of her monopoly, and it is said that she may succeed. If she does, then Austrians, like Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, and the people of all other nations who have chosen to make slaves of themselves, must continue to pay tribute, not only to Madame Wagner, but to hotel-keepers and railroad corporations, if they desire to witness a representation of the greatest achievement in musical composition yet attained. This situation illustrates another absurdity of property in ideas, to which attention has never been called in these columns. As long as Madame Wagner is allowed to retain her monopoly,—and really, if it is rightfully her property, it ought never to be taken from her,—the price which a man must pay to see Parsifal is proportionate to the distance between his residence and Bayreuth. The citizen of Bayreuth pays but five dollars for the privilege which must cost a citizen of the United States from two to four hundred dollars. And this is becuase of one woman’s will and the rest of the world’s lack of will. It may be replied, of course, that the same situation exists regarding many works of art and nature, and cannot be avoided,—for instance, a painting by Titian or the falls of Niagara. This is unfortunately true; but the only good reason for putting up with such a state of things is that we cannot help ourselves. We pay heavily to see Niagara Falls because we cannot reproduce Niagara Falls within walking distance of our homes. But is the fact that we must pay more for things we cannot duplicate a good reason for paying more for things that can be duplicated?
Some months ago, in a paragraph relating to Whitman, I expressed the opinion that the old poet regretted his lines in laudation of the old Emperor William, which Liberty so severely condemned at the time of their appearance. Afterwards J. Wm. Lloyd told me that my surmise was probably incorrect, as the lines were not suppressed in the later editions of the poet’s works. My friend Horace L. Traubel, Whitman’s literary executor, in a recent conversation with me, confirmed Mr. Lloyd’s view. Be it so, then; so much the worse for Whitman. Not being allowed to forget the disgraceful lines, we must consider them an indelible stain upon a great life-work.
William and Tucker didn’t understand me, said Whitman, as reported by Mr. Traubel. (The William referred to is not the Emperor, but William D. O’Connor, the poet’s stanchest champion and warmest admirer, who was as indignant as I over the lines in question.) So Mr. Traubel explained to me Whitman’s attitude. The explanations were two. First, Whitman was able to include William in his song, because the poet’s philosophy was broad enough to include even the greatest criminal. Second, Whitman believed that the unification of Germany was a great and good work, just as he believed in the unification of these States, not in admiration of political government, but on the ground of comradeship. The first thing to note about these explanations is that they are none too consistent with each other. It is not likely that in four lines of verse Whitman meant to celebrate the Emperor’s work and at the same time offer him his hand in brotherhood as he would offer it to a criminal. But this point need not be dwelt on, since the language of the poem is distinctly at variance with either explanation. The gospel of comradeship, however inclusive it may be, is something more and worse than inclusive when it describes the criminal in power—that is, the tyrant—as a
faithful shepherd of his people. Nor does such language properly apply to any ruler who, whatever advantages may have resulted from his administration, was to
his people, not a shepherd, but an outrageous oppressor. For myself I consider the unification of Germany an evil of itself, no more promoting comradeship than marriage does, but this is a point on which decent men may differ. On the other hand, it is impossible for lovers of liberty to differ as to the infamous character of the Bismarckian régime. No, the thing cannot be explained. One must say of such explanations as Colonel Ingersoll says of the Christian endeavor to harmonize the Bible with science: