Randolph Bourne

Those who are not in some sense of the younger generation will hardly realize what poignancy there is for us in the news of the death of Randolph Bourne. It is not only that with his death a literary career of startling brilliancy and peculiar value has been cut short; it does not suffice to say that American literature has lost what would have been one of its most notable figures. We have become in these days more than a litle familiar with the tragic instance of death, and with this familiarity there has unconsciously grown up in our minds the unconscious comforting reassurance that life can make good its losses. But beyond the bounds of respect for an extraordinary talent, and beyond even our personal affection, we have here the sense of special misfortune. Randolph Bourne belonged to us, and stood for us, in a way which he perhaps did not fully know, but which we now very keenly feel. (¶ 1)

It was the quality of his mind which gave him this place among us, the range of his sympathies, the clear force of his thinking, the candor and vigor of his expression, but more than all, the happy union of these traits in an intellectual personality which had for all its force a singular and captivating charm. He was of us because he had a restless and relentless curiosity, undeterred by sentiment and never recoiling in cynicism; the mood of perpetual inquiry, and the courage to go down unfamiliar ways in search of truth. These are traits of our generation; but in many of us they show themselves for the most part as anxious hopes and stubborn fears, violent and apparently perverse disloyalties to accustomed ideals, wanton or whimsical followings of private and inexplicable fancy. In literature, in art, in politics, in all departments of life, there has been an alienation of the younger generation from traditional modes of action; and the newer, untraditional activities have seemed unformed, fantastic or half-hearted—even insincere. Randolph Bourne was part of this revolt, its blood pulsed in him, he breathed its air. But, of a happier nature than most of us, in him the intellectual tendencies of an intelligentsia which was crudely and blunderingly engaged in finding itself, had already finely flowered. It seemed that he had the qualities toward which our defects aspired. But so it was that his achievement seemed to us not only significant of his powers, but of our own; he was the promise of our specific contribution to American life. (¶ 2)

It may be said that all those who have felt themselves in obscure and yet irreoncilable conflict with the repressions which in literature, in art, and in politics alike are our heritage from the past, felt understanding, sympathy and help in the personality of Randolph Bourne; and all these, too few as yet and too scattered to feel other than lonely, will be lonelier because of his death. He could speak for them, he was their voice, and their rebellion became through the clear candor of his prose, clarified and transfigured. It was an accident, though a huge and inescapable accident, that this revolt should in the last few years have had to take the form of hostility to the dominant political tendencies of the time. And yet this accident was one which could more perhaps than anything else try him and prove if his was indeed the lonely courage which our hearts had acclaimed in him. There are few avenues of expression for protest, however sane and far-seeing, against the mood of a nation in arms; and one by one, most of these were closed to him as he went on speaking out his thought. It is one of the more subtly tragic aspects of his death, a misfortune not only to a fecund mind that needed free utterance, but to a country which is nearly starved for thought, that he should in these last years have been doomed to silence. He who should have spoken for them—and who might still have spoken for them—went down to the grave voiceless. (¶ 3)

Just before his sudden death, the war being over, he had been promised an opportunity to write the history of conscientious objectors to war in Ameirca. That history will never be written as he might have written it. And with our return to the sanities of peace, there are many obscure heroisms which without him will be longer in finding an understanding among the American people. (¶ 4)

His career was ended before he had to any degree accomplished the things of which he was capable. He was at the beginning of a great career. But in what we have from him, in his articles and books on education, and his contributions during the last few years to the Seven Arts, the New Republic and the Dial, we have what will serve to stimulate us to our task of understanding the forces which are not so much disintegrating an old world as creating a new. We cannot have his help in that task any more, but we can have the memory of him to enhearten us. (¶ 5)

It is impossible to speak of Randolph Bourne without paying some tribute to the magnificent will which until the end triumphed over his physical frailty. Aside from everything else, to those of us who knew him as a friend, this victory of the spirit had a magnificence which mixed a kind of reverence with our friendship. He was by virtue not only of his clear thinking and his quiet courage, but no less of his sweetness and humor and debonair charm, one of the strong and triumphant personalities of our generation. (¶ 6)

Floyd Dell.