A 16-year-old Jack Deames has just been introduced to Henri Rochefort, Paris Communard and escapee from New Caledonia. He shakes the famous hand, mumbles something and retreats. Although young, he has shown the sort of youthful enthusiasm and energy that sometimes gets you introduced as a representative of the next generation. Rochefort is both familiar and largely unknown. Jack’s world is full of stories about the Paris Commune and its protagonists. He has been aware of Rochefort’s escape and journey, and vaguely aware of his conflicts with Paschal Grousset and François Jourde. Not everything he has heard has been positive, but for the moment those around him seem content to celebrate the escape and return. Jack is too young to really remember Bakunin’s visit the city in 1861, but he understands clearly that, at least for the moment, those around him are willing to see this new escapee’s passage as a favorable sign, perhaps even of a rebirth of international radicalism.
Jack drifts away, sorting through the events of the day. Just what a young man in his circumstances would have made of this particular event is one of the things we’re trying to understand, but let’s start by imagining that, at the very least, the international character of the struggles that have been so central to his social world seems a bit more concrete. And from that small step, let’s take a leap. Let’s say that, on that day, something clicked for young Jackson Wendell Deames in a decisive way, that this was the day that set him on his lifelong, obsessive quest to understand the international movements for ever-greater liberty. Let’s say that, having mulled over the day’s events for a while, he pulled a notebook out of his pocket, turned to a blank page and wrote, with something of a flourish, a single phrase, the meaning of which was still unclear to him, but seemed full of portents and promises:
The Great Atercratic Revolution
ARRIVAL OF ROCHEFORT.
A LECTURE IN PLACE OF A BANQUET—HIS PLANS.
Henri Rochefort arrived in New-York at 7 p. m. on Saturday by the Hudson River Railroad, with Thomas Pain, a French political prisoner, who had escaped with him from New-Caledonia, end Ollivier Benedic, a French acquaintance whom he bad met at Sydney, New-South Wales. On reaching the Grand Central Hotel he took supper with his friends. After breakfasting yesterday he visited a photographer by invitation, and remained at the rooms until 4 p. m. This engagement caused him to miss an appointment with a committee of the French societies at 3.30 p. m. On leaving the photographer, he visited with a party of friends Claude Pelletier, artificial flower and feather manufacturer of Worster-st., who took refuge in this country alter the French revolution of 1848. Here he conversed freely upon the various acts of cruelty perpetrated by the Versailles troops upon Communists, and upon the discomfort of his imprisonment in New-Caledonia. He expressed much sympathy for those of his fellow captives, who, unlike himself, were unprovided with money, and were limited to scanty and indifferent food and wretched accommodations. It was proposed by Mr. Pelletier that he should lecture in this city, Boston and Philadelphia for their benefit, and he expressed willingness to do so, especially as he might in that way place the motives and acts of the much-abused Communists in a more favorable light before the American people. Joseph Olivier, a refugee, and George Baron, a member of the Société Union Républicaine, who entered at that moment, agreed that this course would be more desirable than the attendance of M. Rochefort at a banquet, as the profits of the latter would be absorbed by a restaurant keeper and be of no assistance to their suffering country men,
M. Rochefort told a Tribune reporter that he thought of prolonging his stay in this country eight days, it is possible that he may soon retire to Mr. Pelletier’s country seat at Yonkers for a day or two to prepare his lecture. He intends to remain only a few days in London, as he considers the climate unfavorable to the health of his children; neither will he sojourn at Brussels, as he thinks the Belgian Government unfavorable to him. He will proceed to Genova and await events. He feels confident that the Government of MacMahon will last only a few mouths, and that he will be able to return to Paris soon. He has no idea of publishing a paper out of France, on account of the difficulty of circulating it there. He will more probably write for a Paris journal, or if practicable publish a new one in that city, and edit it at a distance. He thought that if he should act as a correspondent of one or more of the French papers he could more easily accomplish his purposes. Instead of his signature at the foot of his articles (as the admission into France of any article bearing his name is prohibited), he would make his mark, which would be a lantern. He was going to devote himself wholly to the salvation of the Republic, and would not take part in the labor movements. In a conversation with a Tribune reporter he reasserted in detail and at great length the views concerning Napoleon III, the Commune, and the MacMahon Government, which have been attributed to him in the foreign correspondence of The Tribune.
M. Rochefort is five feet nine inches in height, and 44 years of age, with a thin, dark complexioned face, full, high cheek bones, and numerous marks of small-pox. There is a slight cast in one of his dark eyes, and his dark curly hair is tinged with gray. His beard is confined to the upper lip and chin. He appears fond of animals, and has brought with him from Australia a big, red-headed parrot. For a hideous little Mexican monkey possessed by Mr. Pelletier, be showed a decided friendship. He took the little animal on his lap, fondled it, and kissed its head with a sympathetic “pauvre petit,” and other expressions of endearment. As he deposited it on the ground in the excitement of discourse, the animal would soon return and climb upon his knee. This repeated partiality seemed to entertain Rochefort, who styled him an evident Republican for his attraction. On leaving Mr. Pelletier’s house, he dined with a friend who had accompanied him hither from Chicago, and was not at the hotel to receive visits during the evening. No time has been set for his lecture.
[“Arrival of Rochefort,” New York Daily Tribune 34, no. 10347 (June 1, 1874): 1.]