An allusion was recently made on the FACT Net ex-LaRouche message board regarding the "Suicide Club" in Robert Louis Stevenson's New Arabian Nights, a Victorian thriller that is virtually forgotten today. Stevenson presents the Suicide Club as a criminal enterprise that contracts to eliminate individuals who are in despair but lack the nerve to do the deed themselves. Stevenson's hero, Prince Florizel (the London-based heir to a Ruritanian kingdom, and a dabbler in detection) unmasks the secretive group and kills its mastermind in a duel.
LaRouche has occasionally cited or alluded to obscure works of suspense by Stevenson. Possibly he read them as a child--his parents may have bought (as did my parents) one of the cheapo sets of Stevenson's Collected Works that were sold as part of marketing schemes for other products in the 1920s or 1930s. I don't recall LaRouche ever mentioning New Arabian Nights specifically, but if someone could find an aside about it (or simply about the Suicide Club) in LaRouche's Uncollected Rants this would certainly rate as a suggestive factoid.
One Stevenson volume that I think LaRouche would not want his followers to read is the sequel to New Arabian Nights entitled The Dynamiters (1885)--a complicated matrix of tales within tales that ends with Prince Florizel defusing a plot by anarchist bombers to wreak havoc on London. In this book, as melodramatic as its plot might seem, Stevenson brilliantly captures the psychological plight of a young man who joins the anarchists out of idealistic motives but gradually comes to realize that his leaders are deeply disturbed and use unworthy means to accomplish their ends. He finds it almost impossible, however, to break with them--his sense of right and wrong is held at bay by his misplaced idealism, his feelings of loyalty to the cause and his fear of reprisals if he should leave. These ties binding him are symbolized by an "oath" he has taken (in today's terms we would describe this as a stubborn ideological commitment and the bonding with others who share that commitment). So strong is this "oath" that it propels the young man to attempt to commit suicide after failing, through an acute inner moral conflict, to carry out a criminal act assigned to him by the anarchist leadership.
In re-reading this book recently, I was struck with just how well Stevenson foreshadows the plight that would be faced by well-meaning intellectuals recruited to totalitarian movements and cults in the next century. Indeed his compassionate insight seems to speak across a gulf of over 120 years to those who joined the LaRouche movement out of idealistic motives in the late 1960s and early 1970s and who either remain trapped in it today or have formally quit but can't get LaRouchism out of their heads.
In the passage below, the young man and a partner have been ordered to murder Prince Florizel. They lure him to a deserted mansion, but when the time comes to carry out their assignment, the young man cannot do it and instead warns the Prince. His partner, who is carrying the revolvers, has meanwhile been trapped--and locked in the pantry--by the elderly woman who owns the house and is the narrator of the tale. Stevenson appears to have conceived of the anarchist group (although he never spells this out explicitly) as having a code of conduct by which failure to carry out an assignment is a cause for committing suicide. The man locked in the pantry kills himself to atone for his failure, and the young man in the dining-room with the Prince, feeling himself to have betrayed both the cause and his partner, takes poison. The woman of the house, however, gives him an antidote and he recovers. (So good a writer is Stevenson that one scarcely realizes the holes in this plot, which had been devised by his wife Fanny.) But then the schlock ends, and we come to several pages of really extraordinary writing.
If any Boomer or LaRouche Youth Movement member happens to read the below, I would like to ask him or her: Did you recognize yourself in this mirror? If not, take a second, closer look....--DENNIS KING
There we found our patient, still, indeed, deadly pale, but vastly recovered and already seated on a chair. He held out both his hands with a most pitiful gesture of interrogation.
"He is dead," said the prince.
"Alas!" cried the young man, "and it should be I! What do I do, thus lingering on the stage I have disgraced, while he, my sure comrade, blameworthy indeed for much, but yet the soul of fidelity, has judged and slain himself for an involuntary fault? Ah, sir," said he, "and you too, madam, without whose cruel help I should be now beyond the reach of my accusing conscience, you behold in me the victim equally of my own faults and virtues. I was born a hater of injustice; from my most tender years my blood boiled against Heaven when I beheld the sick, and against men when I witnessed the sorrows of the poor; the pauper's crust stuck in my throat when I sat down to eat my dainties, and the crippled child has set me weeping. What was there in that, but what was noble? and yet observe to what a fall these thoughts have led me! Year after year this passion for the lost besieged me closer. What hope was there in kings? what hope in these well-feathered classes that now roll in money? I had observed the course of history; I knew the burgess, our ruler of today, to be base, cowardly, and dull; I saw him, in every age, combine to pull down that which was immediately above and to prey upon those that were below; his dullness, I knew, would ultimately bring about his ruin; I knew his days were numbered, and yet how was I to wait? how was I to let the poor child shiver in the rain? The better days, indeed, were coming, but the child would die before that. Alas, your highness, in surely no ungenerous impatience I enrolled myself among the enemies of this unjust and doomed society; in surely no unnatural desire to keep the fires of my philanthropy alight, I bound myself by an irrevocable oath.
"That oath is all my history. To give freedom to posterity, I had forsworn my own. I must attend upon every signal; and soon my father complained of my irregular hours and turned me from his house. I was engaged in betrothal to an honest girl; from her also I had to part, for she was too shrewd to credit my inventions and too innocent to be entrusted with the truth. Behold me, then, alone with conspirators! Alas! as the years went on, my illusions left me. Surrounded as I was by the fervent disciples and apologists of revolution, I beheld them daily advance in confidence and desperation; I beheld myself, upon the other hand, and with an almost equal regularity, decline in faith. I had sacrificed all to further that cause in which I still believed; and daily, I began to grow in doubts if we were advancing it indeed. Horrible was the society with which we warred, but our own means were not less horrible.
"I will not dwell upon my sufferings; I will not pause to tell you how, when I beheld young men still free and happy, married, fathers of children, cheerfully toiling at their work, my heart reproached me with the greatness and vanity of my unhappy sacrifice. I will not describe to you how, worn by poverty, poor lodging, scanty food, and an unquiet conscience, my health began to fail, and in the long nights, as I wandered bedless in the rainy streets, the most cruel sufferings of the body were added to the tortures of the mind. These things are not personal to me; they are common to all unfortunates in my position. An oath, so light a thing to swear, so grave a thing to break: an oath, taken in the heat of youth, repented with what sobbings of the heart, but yet in vain repented, as the years go on: an oath, that was once the very utterance of the truth of God, but that falls to be the symbol of a meaningless and empty slavery; such is the yoke that many young men joyfully assume, and under whose dead weight they live to suffer worse than death.
"It is not that I was patient. I have begged to be released; but I knew too much, and I was still refused. I have fled; ay, and for the time successfully. I reached Paris. I found a lodging in the Rue. St. Jacques, almost opposite the Val de Grace. My room was mean and bare, but the sun looked into it toward evening: it commanded a peep of a green garden; a bird hung by a neighbour's window and made the morning beautiful; and I, who was sick, might lie in bed and rest myself: I, who was in full revolt against the principles that I had served, and was no longer at the beck of the council, and was no longer charged with shameful and revolting tasks. Oh! what an interval of peace was that! I still dream at times that I can hear the note of my neighbour's bird.
"My money was running out, and it became necessary that I should find employment. Scarcely had I been three days upon the search, ere I thought that I was being followed. I made certain of the features of the man, which were quite strange to me, and turned into a small cafe, where I whiled away an hour, pretending to read the papers, but inwardly convulsed with terror. When I came forth into the street, it was quite empty, and I breathed again; but alas, I had not turned three corners, when I once more observed the human hound pursuing me. Not an hour was to be lost; timely submission might yet preserve a life which otherwise was forfeited and dishonoured; and I fled with what speed you may conceive, to the Paris agency of the society I served.
"My submission was accepted. I took up once more the hated burden of that life; once more I was at the call of men whom I despised and hated, while yet I envied and admired them. They were whole-hearted in the things they proposed; but I, who had once been such as they, had fallen from the brightness of my faith, and now laboured, like a hireling, for the wages of a loathed existence. Ay, sir, to that I was condemned; I obeyed to continue to live, and lived but to obey.
"The last charge that was laid upon me was the one which has tonight so tragically ended. Boldly telling who I was, I was to request from your highness, on behalf of my society, a private audience, where it was designed to murder you. If one thing remained to me of my old convictions, it was the hate of kings; and when this task was offered me, I took it gladly. Alas, sir, you triumphed. As we supped, you gained upon my heart. Your character, your talents, your designs for our unhappy country, all had been misrepresented: I began to forget you were a prince; I began, all too feelingly, to remember that you were a man. As I saw the hour approach, I suffered agonies untold; and when, at last, we heard the slamming of the door which announced in my unwilling ears the arrival of the partner of my crime, you will bear me out with what instancy I besought you to depart. You would not, alas! and what could I? Kill you, I could not; my heart revolted, my hand turned back from such a deed. Yet it was impossible that I should suffer you to stay, for when the hour struck and my cornpanion came, true to appointment, and he, at least, true to design, I could neither suffer you to be killed nor yet him to be arrested. From such a tragic passage, death, and death alone could save me; and it is no fault of mine if I continue to exist.
"But you, madam," continued the young man, addressing himself more directly to myself, "were doubtless born to save the prince and to confound our purposes. My life you have prolonged; and by turning the key on my companion, you have made me the author of his death. He heard the hour strike; he was impotent to help; and thinking himself forfeit to honour, thinking that I should fall alone upon his highness and perish for lack of his support, he has turned his pistol on himself."
"You are right," said Prince Florizel: "it was in no ungenerous spirit that you brought these burthens on yourself; and when I see you so nobly to blame, so tragically punished, I stand like one reproved. For is it not strange, madam, that you and I, by practising accepted and inconsiderable virtues, and commonplace but still unpardonable faults, should stand here, in the sight of God, with what we call clean hands and quiet consciences; while this poor youth, for an error that I could almost envy him, should be sunk beyond the reach of hope?"
"Sir," resumed the Prince, turning to the young man, "I cannot help you; my help would but unchain the thunderbolt that overhangs you; and I can but leave you free."
"And, sir," said I, "as this house belongs to me, I will ask you to have the kindness to remove the body. You and your conspirators, it appears to me, can hardly in civility do less."