The Forerunners (Romain Rolland)/XIII

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E. D. Morel, secretary of the Union of Democratic Control, was arrested in London during August, 1917, and was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in the second division, upon the ridiculous (and incorrect) charge of having attempted to send to Romain Rolland in Switzerland one of his own political pamphlets which was being freely circulated in England.[1] The "Revue mensuelle" of Geneva asked R. R. what he thought of this affair, concerning which at that time little was known on the continent, for all the information hitherto published had been in the form of defamatory articles, attacks upon Morel manufactured in England and disseminated in various tongues. R. R. replied as follows:—

YOU ask what I think of the arrest of E. D. Morel. I am not personally acquainted with E. D. Morel. I do not know whether, as is asserted, he has sent me some of his works during the war. I never received them.

But from all that I know of him, of his activities prior to the war, of his crusade against the crimes of civilisation in Africa, of his writings upon the war (few of which have been reproduced in Swiss or in French journals), I consider him to be a man of high courage and vigorous faith. He has always dared to serve truth, to serve truth alone, scorning danger, regardless of all the animus he was arousing. These things would be little. Morel has displayed rarer qualities, has achieved a more difficult task, in that he has been willing to disregard his own sympathies, his friendships, and even his country, when the truth and his country were at odds.

Thus he is in the succession of all the great believers: Christians of the early centuries, the reformers during the epoch of the wars of religion, the freethinkers of the heroic age of free thought, all those who have prized beyond everything their faith in truth—in whatever form truth presented itself to their minds (divine or human, for to them it was always sacred). I may add that such a man as E. D. Morel is a great citizen even when he is demonstrating to his country the errors which it is committing. Nay more, he is preeminently a great citizen when he does this and because he does it. Some would draw a veil over the errors of their country; they are unprofitable servants, or they are sycophants. Every brave man, every straightforward man, knows best how to honour his country.

The state may strike down such a man if it pleases, as the state struck down Socrates, as the state has struck down so many others, to whom, after they were dead, it raised useless monuments. The state is not our country. It is merely the administrator of our country, sometimes a good administrator, sometimes a bad one, but always fallible. The state has power, and uses power. But since man has been man, this power has invariably broken vainly against the threshold of the free soul.

R. R.

September 15, 1917.

"Revue mensuelle," Geneva, October, 1917.

  1. E. D. Morel, having served his sentence, has given a number of lectures in various parts of Britain, arousing the sympathetic indignation of his audiences by his account of the illegalities in his trial and of the undercurrents in the whole business. He was able to show that there were influences at work emanating from certain persons whose interests had been injuriously affected prior to the war by Morel's press campaign against the Congo atrocities.—Cf. The Persecution of E. D. Morel, Reformer’s Series, Glasgow, 1919.