Margaret Sanger, "Havelock Ellis," Feb 1929.

Source: " Editorial, Birth Control Review, Feb. 1929, pp.37-38."

Havelock Ellis

“Our generation does not look for saints who are regarded as messengers from a superhuman realm, but for saints whom it can honor as the most human of men.” So declares Stefan Zweig, whose illuminating studies of Tolstoy, Casanova, and Stendahl have recently been published in this country. It might be nearer the truth to say that our generation does not look for saints at all. Confronted with a saint, how many of this twentieth century would recognize him? How many have? In active and violent revolt against traditional and orthodox religion, we have developed a phobia for all things that even suggest the old religion--even its vocabulary. “Saint” or “saintliness” are words in bad odor with us. They mean somebody or something excessively--or even hypothetically--sanctimonious. For the majority of the younger generation the “saint” connotes a holy man or woman untouched by the problems or the sufferings of our workaday world. But there are certain heroic lives, certain giants of the spirit, a few radiant personalities today whose example compels us to resort to the now discarded vocabulary of primitive religion. Certain men we can only adequately characterize as saints. Havelock Ellis is one-- to me the foremost--of these contemporary saints.

What is a saint? How can we define a saint without evoking the symbols or the images of institutional religion? “When we talk of a life as saintly,” declares Stefan Zweig, “we mean that it is heroical in the sense of entire devotion to a religiously conceived ideal.” I am not quite satisfied with that word “religiously.” It confuses rather than clarifies. I would rather define the saint as one who radiates spiritual truth and energy. I see him living in a realm above and beyond the shouting and the tumult of the day’s “news.” Current events do not trouble him. Captains and kings come and go. Lilliputian warriors strut their hour upon the world stage, and boundary lines between nations are made and unmade. The saint takes no active part in this external trafficking. Yet he does not swell apart in an ivory tower of his own construction.

Detached as he seems to be from the pain and suffering of our workaday world, Havelock Ellis has penetrated profoundly into the persistent problems of the human race. Nothing human is alien to his sympathy and charity. The knowledge of this saint is broad and deep, his wisdom is even deeper. He makes no strident, blatant effort to shout out his method to the world. He makes no rash promises of eternal salvation or happiness. But gradually, and in ever-increasing numbers, men and women pause to listen to his serene voice. There is indeed something miraculous in the manner in which men and women in all parts of our world have stopped to “listen in” to the voice of Havelock Ellis. Here is a phenomenon far more amazing than the achievements of radio-activity. Despite all the obstacles and obstructions that have hindered his expression, his truth has filtered through to the minds ready to receive it. It is not the place here to attempt to define his “message”--if indeed there can be said to be any definite “message,” other than that of life more abundant, attained through a more complete understanding of ourselves and unruffled charity toward all the variations of which this all-too-human race has demonstrated itself capable. Ellis is much more than a “philosopher of love,” as he was described by Houston Peterson in the biography published last year. He is more than a psychologist preoccupied with probing into sexual abnormalities. Like Francis of Assisi he has opened the eyes of the spirit to new and heretofore ignored aspects of life. Saint Francis has been acclaimed as the real father of Italian art--he taught men the beauty of external nature, of his brother the sun and his sister the moon, of animal life and all the pageantry of the passing seasons.

To Havelock Ellis more than any other contemporary, we owe our concept of that kingdom of God which is really within us, that inner world which hides all our inherent potentialities for joy as well as suffering. Thanks to his serene and heroic assertion of fundamental truths, we realize today, as never before in the history of humanity, that happiness must be the fruit of our own activity, our own attitude towards life, and that it is in no way dependent upon the wards of the fights of external fortune. This spiritual energy which Havelock Ellis has for so many years radiated is thus a merciful, beneficent, and, above all, a fertile and life-giving force.

Like Saint Francis of Assisi, Havelock Ellis has awakened us to a new life and a new world. We can never--even if by some inexplicable stubbornness we would--turn back into that cabined and confined world in which at the beginning of his career, he found himself, and which by the quiet and progressive assertion of his own values, he has done so much to dissolve. The truth is that since the world recognition of Havelock Ellis, we are all different people today. Unafraid and alone, he was one of the first to strike boldly as a pioneer into an uncharted jungle of human nature. Anyone less than saint would have fallen. Havelock Ellis not only penetrated unharmed through that purgatory, but has led the rest of us with him. Taboos have been destroyed. Fears have vanished. And even though practically everything still remains to be done of the vast labors of the twentieth century Hercules, we have the example of this modern saint to encourage and to inspire us for decades to come.

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Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project