by Vyacheslav MARKIN, Cand. Sc. (Geogr.)
Oscar Wilde, English man of letters, poet and playwright, in his essay "De Profundis" described the life of Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842 - 1921) as a most perfect, referring to the completeness of his personality, surprisingly integral and harmonic. From 1876 to 1917 he had to live abroad, primarily in England, where he was called the most famous Russian emigre largely because of his role in promoting academic ties between Russia and Great Britain.
Pyotr Alexeyevich, a prince of the Ryurikoviches descent, a graduate of the Pazhesky korpus (Pages' Corps), became a renowned scholar, one of the leading figures of the Russian Geographical Society. Renouncing a brilliant military career or that of a statement, he enlisted in obscure Amur Cossack Troops where as a researcher he walked thousands of miles through Manchuria, East Sayan Mountains, Amur River and Lake Baikal basins and trailblazed the Lena/Vitim watershed. His endeavor culminated in fundamental works, taking a new look at the laws that had shaped up the gigantic mountain ridges of Siberia and Far East. The scheme propounded by the great German natural scientist Alexander Gumboldt who had never come to Siberia himself was subjected to a substantial revision. Pyotr Kropotkin has proven the manifestations of volcanic activity in Central Asia and discovered traces of alluvial glaciation in East-Siberian mountains.
Speaking in the Geographical Society he presented a project of a large-scale expedition for the exploration of Russian northern seas and search of yet undiscovered lands in the Arctic Ocean, but the government refused to pay. And then Kropotkin went to South Scandinavia to study the early glaciation traces.
However, in the spring of 1874 he was arrested and confined to the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul of St. Petersburg as a member of a Narodnaya volya (Popular Will) revolutionary circle. In confinement he wrote the fundamental two-volume work "Glacial Epoch Studies". In June 1876 the prisoner staged a daring escape from the prison hospital and, unrecognized by Czar security service badly wanting him, crossed Finland, Sweden and Norway.
Kropotkin, as he stepped on the British soil in the Port of Hull with a passport in the name of Alexei Levashov, a friend of his, did not intend to stay in the west for long.
However, soon he realized there was no point leading a covert life in Russia and settled in Edinburgh. He sent an article to the Nature magazine about the oceanographic research led by the Norwegian Henrik Mon who had just returned from North Atlantic (back in 1871 this edition had published his feature about observation of aurora polaris over Baikal signed "P.K."). In The Times he published essays about Russian expeditions, preemptively, Nikolai Przhevalsky's heroic explorations of Central Asia, both signed "A.L" (A. Levashov). With favorable responses Rropotkin (Levashov) came to London.
In the Nature editorial office he was offered a permanent job: regular reporting on the scientific activities of the Russian Geographical Society and books published in Russia. "Sure, Mr. Celty had no idea, -recalled Kropotkin referring to his publisher, -that I would rewrite each article three or four times before I would take a chance to show him my English. But I was permitted to take scientific magazines home, and soon I could subsist on a small fee... Of course, there were weeks when I could give no interesting news about Przhevalsky or when my notes about other parts of Russia were rejected as presenting no interest. In those weeks I had to suffice myself with tea and bread".
Once the editorial secretary James Scott-Celty unshelved a fresh from Petersburg bulky volume entitled "Glacial Epoch Studies" and asked the new contributor to write a review of the book. Pyotr Alexeyevich had to admit his authorship. Celty was aware from newspapers about the escape of a Russian political prisoner and expressed his deep satisfaction that it was on the British soil that the latter had found refuge.
Later, however, having embarked on the road of public activities, Kropotkin took a leave of science for a few years, propagating the anarchic ideas of social justice in Switzerland, France and England. In France he was even arrested. Not without a help from the Czar's government which was even scheming an attempt on his life he was sentenced to five years in prison. Three years later, under the pressure of French and English academic and cultural circles, he was released. The signatory list under the petition to le President de la Republique was opened by Victor Hugo. For England it was signed by poet Charles Swinbern, writer Herbert Wells, playwright Bernard Shaw, philosopher Herbert Spenser. Incidentally, the latter's book "Basic Biology" was translated into Russian by brothers Pyotr and Alexander Kropotkin. It was released in St. Petersburg in 1866 and was the first foreign edition of the book. Nevertheless, later that did not prevent Pyotr Alexeyevich from criticizing
many of the English thinker's concepts in a large article devoted to Spenser, especially his admission of the universality of fight for survival.
While still in the French prison, Kropotkin began to write articles ordered by the Encyclopaedia Britannica Publishing House and commenced the exploration of the important biological problem of mutual help as an evolutionary factor. It occupied, perhaps, the central place of his creative work in the period of the "British exile", as he once described his enforced stay in England. And still it was only in this country that he could go ahead with his oeuvre unhampered. In Russia his name was under a ban. Even his compatriot geographers and geologists making reference to his findings in their works rarely mentioned him by name. England gave him universal recognition.
It was there that he translated into English excerpts from the most outstanding works of Russian literature. They came in handy when while in the U.S.A. in 1901 Pyotr Alexeyevich read in Boston a course in the history of Russian lore: from tales, epics and chronicles to Anton Chekov and Maxim Gorky. The lectures were collected in a book which came off the printing press in 1905 in New York and London under the title "Russian Literature: Ideals and Realities".
Kropotkin was one of the first to give a review of Russian literature for English- language readers and publish several articles devoted to major Russian writers, above all, Ivan Turgenev whom he new intimately, and Leo Tolstoi with whom for several years he had maintained a pen dialogue.
Kropotkin lived primarily in two London suburbs: Harrow (north-west) and Bromley (south-east), and in 1911 he moved to the seaside town of Brighton. And wherever he stayed, evidences then publicist, later USSR Ambassador to UK Academician Maisky, his home resembled a "Noah's arch". On Sundays one could meet there, often simultaneously, a anarchist from South America and a farmer from Australia, an English socialist worker and a Czar general, deputies of the State Duma from St. Petersburg and of the House of Commons from London, a Scottish minister and a Dukhobor relocated to Canada with the help of Leo Tolstoi and Pyotr Kropotkin. He plaid host to the poet William Morris, Ethel Lillian Voinich (Bulle), the author of "The Gadfly", Bernard Shaw, British trade union leaders James Hardy and Rab Watson, one of the first Labourists Edward Peas, Annie Besant, the founder of the theo-sophic society.
His fellow geographers paid visits too: Academicians Pyotr Semenov-Tiennshansky and Dmitry Anuchin, the would-be USSR AS correspondent member Yu. Shokalsky and the Central Asia explorer Pyotr Kozlov whose maiden speech at the Royal Geographical Society was arranged by Kropotkin. Pyotr Alexeyevich himself actively collaborated with the society of English geographers, repeatedly spoke at their meetings, contributed to their magazines Proceedings of Geographical Society and Geographical Journal, Nature.
In 1893 Pyotr Alexeyevich was elected a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, took part in congresses, made reports on matters of natural science.
In different areas of Great Britain he not just lectured on social, scientific and cultural subjects but studied the economy of the country paying special attention to the situation in agriculture. His observations and speculations he summarized in the book "Fields, Factories, Workshops" which was a great success: between 1898 and 1904 it was reprinted in England annually.
This is how Kropotkin himself gave account of his activities in a letter of May 1909: "...In England I am rather known as a scientist than as a political author. The reason is that I have for 20 years reviewed in the Nature all naturalist works in Russia, partially in Sweden and Bohemia, have for over 10 years after Huxsly conducted the Recent Science in The Nineteenth Century- critical reviews of scientific problems or even disciplines..."
In The Nineteenth Century magazine published since 1818 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science a special place was occupied by section The Recent Science. For many years it was led by Thomas Henry Huxsly, prominent naturalist, Darwin's companion-in-arms, President of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1888 he resigned from the board having recommended Kropotkin to his position.
Pyotr Alexeyevich was enthusiastic. Every month he would publish reviews of discoveries and inventions made in different countries of the globe, expose the essence of recent theories and hypotheses, tell about the views of mountain-building processes and causes of earthquakes, the methods of atmospheric research with air balloons and weather forecasting, laws of atmospheric circulation. Next to these publications stood articles about stellar spectral analysis, discovery of inert gases and X-rays, study of brain structure and progress of medicine. Broad was the range of these works signed "Prince Kropotkin", although he had long renounced his princedom. Oxford University was going to publish his reviews as a separate book and Cambridge offered the author professorate on the condition that he should give up politics. Pyotr Alexeyevich declined.
In 1878 The Nature published Kropotkin's articles reviewing the findings of Nordenskiold's polar expedition who on board the "Vega" schooner sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean passing along the Russian northern coasts within two shipping seasons. The completion of a three year drift of Fritjof Nansen's research vessel "Fram" in the Arctic Ocean also
found response of the Russian geographer who published an in-depth article in The Nineteenth Century. He had met with the Norwegian polar explorer (then a commencing zoologist) earlier in Edinburgh at the place of Patrick Geddes, an English biologist, when Nansen was just preparing to cross the ice shield of Greenland. Kropotkin's publications in English scientific magazines mused over the results of the first Antarctic explorations destined, in his opinion, to elucidate physics of the earth. Expanding on his ideas of the Glacial Epoch followed by a broad proliferation of lakes filled by thaw waters of glaciers, he arrived at the conclusion about the commencing "drying-out of Eurasia". He reported on the matter in 1904 at the Royal Geographical Society.
A many years permanent contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th, 10th and llth Editions), having published about 200 articles there, primarily on Russian subjects, Kropotkin also took part in the preparation of the Encyclopedia founded in 1850 by Scottish publisher Robert Chambers. These articles were devoted to major cities of Russia, its natural and administrative regions, mountain systems, rivers, lakes and islands. In comprehensive articles "Russia" and "Siberia" Pyotr Alexeyevich partially materialized his long-cherished dream since the time with the Geographical Society-creation of Russian land science.
During the British period of his life an outstanding place in Kropotkin's work was occupied by biosociological theory. His interest towards it was stirred by the report of the Russian zoologist, correspondent member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences Karl Kessler, about the importance of mutual help in the progressive evolution of living matter. Kropotkin embarked on the development of the theory which occupied many years. He explored it in The Nineteenth Century articles pointing out that the basic motive of animals' mutual help is not affection conditioned by the instinct of breeding, as Kessler propounded, but sociability based on the great law of collaboration and cooperation.
In 1888 Huxsly came forward with the article "Fight for Survival: Programme" propounding that Darwin's general fight for survival whereby fitter organisms thrive on the soil fertilized by weaklings, reigns not just in nature but in human society too. That was a manifesto of Social-Darwinism. Kropotkin with the backup of The Nineteenth Century publisher James Noles
and Secretary of The Royal Geographical Society Henry W. Batts forthwith objected. One by one the magazine publishes his articles devoted to the prevalence of sociability, unity and joint activity in the evolution of fauna and, later, human society throughout different phases of its progress. The book "Mutual Help as a Factor of Evolution" which collated the articles came out in London in 1897 (In Russia it was published in 1919 only).
It was but natural for Kropotkin to make a passage from this problem to the issues of ethics and morality. At the Ankot Brotherhood Club in Manchester he delivered two lectures: "Justice and Morality" and "Morality in Nature" welcomed with enthusiasm. In the same year he repeated them at the London Ethics Society. "The moral backbone of human, -he said, -is no other than further development of the instinct of sociability natural of almost any living creature and observed in the entire living matter".
In 1912 Britain solemnly commemorated Kropotkin's 70th anniversary. The address of a specially created anniversary committee pointed out: "Your merits in the field of natural sciences..., your correction to Darwin's theory have brought you world recognition and expanded our understanding of nature... You have taught us to value the basic principle of social life-that of sweetheart agreement which has at аД times been practiced by best people and which you now put forward as an important factor of social development..." Signatures under the address occupied 70 pages and included the autographs of world famous English writers: Gilbert K. Chesterton, Herbert Wells and Bernard Shaw. The latter said: "Many years ago my friends and I decided to teach Kropotkin some things, since we disagreed with his theories. By years have passed, and now I am not sure whether we were right and Kropotkin wrong..."
In those days "the most famous emigre" received more than 500 congratulations from different countries, including Russia. He was allowed come back home, but he stated that he would return "only to a free democratic Russia", and stayed in Britain for another five years. He went home only after the February Revolution of 1917.
Before departure Kropotkin published in the local press a letter of gratitude for hospitality, for the opportunity to live and work in an exceptionally benevolent atmosphere: "Thank you for more than fraternal welcome..." Thoughts about England would not leave him till the end of his life: in that country he spent more than half of his live, wrote and published his key works; there his daughter Alexandra and granddaughter Pierra were born (about the latter's death in 1942 in London under Nazi bombs he would never come to know).
Pyotr Kropotkin died in the town of Dmitrov near Moscow in February 1921. In his final years he organized what was called the Society of Closer Ties with England. Once his home was visited by a British Labour delegation with whom Pyotr Alexeyevich sent back a message about the situation in the country gripped by the Civil War.
A few days before death, when he recovered his senses for a brief time he, obviously reliving the brightest impression of his life, drew the route of his biggest Siberian expedition from the Lena to the gold mines of the Vitim and further straight south through the watershed of the great rivers to Chita. This last drawing was made on a random official envelope of the Society of Closer Ties with England.
Опубликовано 14 сентября 2018 года
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