Tired of Living


Emile Henry

Tired of Living[1]

No, Emile Henry was not crazy. If he were alive, I would not dare say it for fear of crippling or appearing to cripple the steps taken against his will by his grieving mother and devoted friends. But I would also not dare to say the contrary, speaking against my own conviction, supporting their theory—in the name of a dying man’s will, unknown to them in all sanctity, but always sacred to me!

Certainly no one understood more than this woman in her passionate desire to save her son, calling upon every pretext, imploring every hope. She would not have been a real mother if she had not acted thus, if she had not worn down the sidewalks of Paris with her shoes and heaven and earth with her pleas!

Therefore, any trace of disapproval is far from my mind, as well as the chance of adding, in any way whatsoever, to her awful despair. What she did, she did well. It was normal, it was maternal… and I, like almost all women, would have taken the same path.   Stoicism, following the law of nature and the habit of education, is of all philosophies that which is least fitting to our sex—and mothers are not the ones from whom we should demand it!

But what I told her, gently, at length, when she came knocking at my door as she had knocked at so many others, I can repeat here today lest everything be wasted, lest in the eternity where a soul has returned my words fall uselessly in the emptiness and silence like grains of sand.


A woman reader, veiled in anonymity (and to whom I owe thanks not, perhaps, for her mistaken opinion but at least for her concerned trust) had written to Madame Henry saying that I alone could intervene to good effect. All I had to do was to write a column… and afterward the police, the judges, Monsieurs Carnot and Deibler would all lay down their weapons!

Alas, dear reader, if it had been a matter of a professional assassin, a career thief, I grant you… but an anarchist!

I tried, with a heavy heart, to explain to this poor woman sitting there looking at me with the eyes of a doe being slaughtered, those wild, beseeching eyes. I told her the truth: that Henry, by denying all pity before the jury, had made any plea for pity difficult; that by the tacit accord of the press with the repression, not one editor—not a single one!—would accept my article and finally that I did not even have the means of bringing it out somewhere else, which I saw, at the risk of unconscionable damage, as limiting my right to publish my weekly columns.

Oh, the gloomy fifteen minutes that I spent there reeling off these petty excuses before her tears. And how I shivered with disgust at this job I loved so much! There is no shame but there is sometimes grim bitterness in feeling useless and powerless, when a poor old woman dressed for mourning beseeches you… and deludes herself!


Well, to console her and to comfort myself, I will affirm what I know to be true: that my prose, a simple token satisfaction for her, a mere sign of interest that I could have given her, would have had no influence, absolutely none, on the decisions taken in advance and that were in a way irrevocable.

So much for the plea for mercy. As for the madness, first of all, they would not have let me invoke it either. Plus, it was a wasted effort, flailing at the air. Either it would have failed—and it was pleading for nothing, prolonging the prisoner’s agony, going against his expressed desire. Or it would have succeeded—and Henry, the second he felt himself trapped, would have killed himself.

He wanted death. He had said so in court and he had confirmed it by refusing to appeal. He had condemned himself much more than they had condemned him! Sent to the penal colonies or to prison, he would have killed himself—she knew that. Well, why deprive him of what he looked upon as so desirable that he had sacrificed the lives of others, his own honor, his liberty and his very existence?

To take away his responsibility was to deny his free will. To deny his free will was to eradicate the ideal in the name of which he claimed to have acted… A fierce Ideal, but an Ideal nonetheless, in that it had been his motive, his driving force! For the love of it he made fearsome decisions and suffered unspeakable torments. For, as fanatical as a man might be, I can never believe that he strikes his fellowmen, strangers and bystanders, without a struggle, with joy in his heart!

Afterward came the chase, the arrest, the beatings! Then the slow torment of the investigation, the exhibition in court, the sentencing—and from now on his cellmate is the specter of the executioner.

Well then, after long and careful thought, he had risked all this, accepted it and suffered it. The scaffold was his “reward”, the foregone and desired conclusion. Even out of tenderness, did we have the right to take that away from him, to send him to the shower, into the hands of nurses. Or to the whip, into the hands of prison guards… leaving to legend the memory of a madman, irresponsible and incoherent?

“That’s true!” she said.

She stood, gathered up the letters, the school diplomas, the meager remains, and bid me farewell, fully convinced that I was right… and she left, the incurable mother, the indefatigable mother, to inquire elsewhere about another means of salvation.


Today Monsieur Deibler, the grand arbitrator has had the final say: Henry has had “his” death.

Mob justice is satisfied with it. I do not know if society is safer for it. Until now the so-called operation has had the exact same results as those that ignorant doctors have: after carving away, they cut again, then slice off some more without stopping the gangrene that grows and grows—and threatens! I remember a clown, one of the Dare brothers, whose left leg was thus sliced up in the name of science: like a sausage.

The whole question is to know if it is a good form of treatment. All opinions aside, completely aside, is a threatened regime better off taking revenge than taking care of itself, punishing rather than preventing?


“Utopia! Utopia!” the politicians scream out.

Utopia? Why? Do you know that in being so categorical, so hostile to any conciliation, so scornful of kindness and fraternity, you are almost proving these desperate men right when they take refuge in crime like the desperate men did in Numantia, in Carthage or in Saragossa on their burning roofs? Every animal that is cornered turns ferocious. If they have no more hope, if every exit is closed, every recourse shut off, how can you be surprised when they give up their humanity to become wild beasts?

Repression? Yes, I know… The authorized officials advise it, demand it. They want to put on the pontoons of the penal colony that little four-sous guillotine that is so shamefully displayed on the mornings of executions in La Roquette and add a copy of the penal code to send across the waves!

They want: “To repress by terror.”

But terror of what? Of death? Most of the common murderers today laugh at it and hold their heads high as they march toward it. So, he whom an ideal, good or bad, sustains, pays his debt with no more emotion than a club member paying off a lost bet. It’s right, completely natural: they kill themselves or are killed without recriminations.

And who does the killing in such a case usually does not place much value on life. Here the facts speak for themselves. Just look at all the states of Europe and their recent suppression of anarchists—not a single person has asked for a pardon or died cowardly!

The penal colony? Wretched here or wretched there under the whips of the guards or the fists of the foremen, it does not matter much to them—and they make proselytes!

Philosophically I do not think that any intimidation can work against them. To call upon their goodwill? They cannot have any, these beggars living among beggars, their ears so stuffed up with the groans of suffering that the cries of their victims cannot be heard. To soften up a heart petrified by the tears of the common people! Léauthier’s letter that was published in Le Figaro said much about this. The young man whom all who knew him called gentle (like Ravachol, incidentally) expressed his theory of killing in such a calm and lucid manner that the least clear-headed people had to stop and think about it.

“We will cut off their heads!”

So be it, cut off their heads!

But, again and again, and then? Will you put all the knives and dynamite in the world under lock and key? Will you guillotine or strangle the spirit of revolt forever? You know very well that you will not! Can you deny that the history of these last ten years is enough to prove it? One companion after another without cease: after Ravachol, Léauthier; after Léauthier, Vaillant; after Vaillant, Emile Henry. Capital punishment, though infamous, has become something to aspire to. The attacks are an answer to the severity: the Véry restaurant, les rues des Bons-Enfants, Saint Jacques, Faubourg Saint-Martin, the Madeleine, the Foyot, not to mention the etcetera in the country too numerous to count!

And you believe that this is a life for the good men—they are legion—thirsting for peace and tranquility? The anarchists started it, it is true… like rabbits! Why, in the many workshops I could show you and where fifty workers used to keep busy, are there barely three left? Why, from the top to the bottom of the ladder are we no longer self-sufficient? Who aspires to be leader of the people? Who assumes not only the responsibility of good order, but also of the public welfare? What do you want these jobless people to do—when they still have to eat? How do you expect that anger and hunger will not make them wild beasts? Who will stop them?

God? The governments have taken it away from them.

The idea of good and evil? What a pretty story it is. Babeuf, Cadoudal, Orsini, once upon a time executed as criminals, rehabilitated today, they have their henchmen; the surviving leaders of the Commune, deported like bandits less than a quarter of a century ago are basking in easy jobs—and the statue of Barbès stands there with its rifle, that murderous rifle that was the cause of his death sentence.

Set an example? You’re not serious, you’re joking, you don’t give a damn! To have your head cut clean off or to die with an empty belly comes down to the same thing! At least before dying you’re fed!

It is difficult to make those who more or less enjoy life to understand that a person deprived of everything does not experience any joy or pleasure. But that is how it is: I say so with terror.

Never was this term spoken in June 1848 at the barricade of Petit-Pont with more relevance: “What’s your name?” the rebel chief asked a guy whose dress and bearing intrigued him. And the guy, all the while helping him, said, “Call me Tired of Living.”

Another head to roll. And nothing changed for all that! The widow from a distance is nothing but a scarecrow for sparrows; up close nothing but a pedestal, a platform, a Calvary!

Truthfully, I am telling you that the solution is broken down, it is not working! And I will say it again why can’t we try something else: a social state that is more humane, more just; concessions to the hungry poor; a less arbitrary distribution of goods—what Jesus the subversive, Jesus the torture victim simply called love of thy neighbor?


[1] Included in En Marche 1896.


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