BY BENJAMIN DeCASSERES
“Make the world safe for intelligence!”
Certainly no human being can give the world a better slogan – a slogan that sums up in its six words more completely all that the words “civilization” and “progress” stand for. That was the slogan of Bruce Calvert. It appeared for many years in his montly, “The Open Road,” founded in 1908 at Pigeon-Roost-in-the-Woods, Indiana, and later published at Mountain View, N. J.
No one in all the years of a long and busy life ever tried harder or with more courage and honesty to make his country safe for intelligence than Bruce Calvert. I never met Calvert in the flesh, but for many, many years “The Open Road” regularly came to me, and I used to read it from cover to cover because I recognized in Calvert a great individualist.
Individualists are rare in this world, for an individualist is one who has a programme for his own life evolved from his own needs and sensibilities and who will not force that programme on anyone else, one who, further, will go to the mat the instant some one else’s programme is forced on him. Such a man was Bruce Calvert. Some writers get printed by publishers and some writers are compelled to do their own publishing. Of the latter breed of men was Bruce Calvert. He was greater than any publisher because he had ideas of his own, evolved like Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau, out of the very bowels of his soul – and so he talked to the world from his own printing press, like Benjamin Franklin. The following might have been printed in the first number and the last number of “The Open Road” – and nothing will give you a better picture of the defiant mind of this rustic Voltaire:
“‘The Open Road’ is dedicated to arousing the spirit of protest, to making people discard all they hear or read and try to think things out for themselves. This is a hard road.It will never be popular. All the money of the Rockefellers, Henry Ford and Uncle Andy Mellon put together could never buy this maglet a million readers. There aren’t that many with the courage to stand on their own intellectual feet in the whole world.”
Right you are, Bruce! Most people are still on all fours. They fear the validity of their own instincts, their own thoughts, although they have a perfect, a courageous faith in their hands, their legs, their tongues – and their own innate and incurable stupidity. Now, there was a great deal more than the controversialist, the crusader for freedom, in Calvert. He was also a poet, a nature-worshipper, a man who believed, like Bruno and Spinoza, in the divinity of matter and the ineffable glory of the material universe. For instance, read this beautiful prose-poem, “The November Woods”:
“A color scheme like some Gargantuan Joseph’s cloak flung across the shoulders of the world. Every shade in the rainbow. Blazing reds, yellows and soft browns dominant. Crackling seed-pods. Patter of leaves forsaking their parent stems and sifting gently down to their lowly beds in the soft breasts of earth below. Alternating pale sunshine and clouds. Autumn gusts whistling through clattering tree-trops. Eddies of dry leaves leaping up in miniature whirlwinds. Earth’s magic and majestic requiem of the passing year. Mother nature tucking her tired children away for the long night of winter. Over all, a chill of death and the dying, yet in each relaxing blade of grass, in each sighing leaf the promise of a new birth to come forth out of the seeds of dissolution. The immortality of the cosmic processes! Morituri salutamus!”
There is the simplicity of the Book of Common Prayer – a profound subject treated in an almost childlike manner that recalls William Blake, the Holy Innocent of poetry.
“The style is the man,” some one has said. And the style of Bruce Calvert reflected the man in every atom of his make-up-simplicity, clarity of thought, purety in passion, directness. Well, what can I tell you more of this great simple man, this battler for the Light, for Freedom, for Tolerance, for the individual Human Ego? Nothing. For there is spread before you in these pages thw best of him, the very marrow of his thought, his loves and hates.
There is a story that when Walt Whitman left when Waly Whitman left Lincoln on a wisit at the White House and walked toward the gate, Lincoln, who was standing at a window in the White House, said to John Hay, pointing to Whitman:
“There goes a MAN, John!”
And as Bruce Calvert was laid to rest, had I been there, I should have uttered a like sentiment:
“There goes a MAN – Bruce Calvert!”