MADRID, Jan. 17.–Nikolai Lenine was among the Russians who landed at Barcelona recently, according to newspapers here.–News item.
It is rather important to understand the technique of rumors. The wise man does not scoff at them, for while they are often absurd, they are rarely baseless. People do not go about inventing rumors, except for purposes of hoax; and even a practical joke is never (to parody the proverb) hoax et praeterea nihil. There is always a reason for wanting to perpetrate the hoax, or a reason for believing it will be believed.
Rumors are a kind of exhalation or intellectual perfume thrown off by the news of the day. Some events are more aromatic than others; they can be detected by the trained pointer long before they happen. When things are going on that have a strong vibration–what foreign correspondents love to call a “repercussion”–they cause a good deal of mind-quaking. An event getting ready to happen is one of the most interesting things to watch. By a sort of mental radiation it fills men’s minds with surmises and conjectures. Curiously enough, due perhaps to the innate perversity of man, most of the rumors suggest the exact opposite of what is going to happen. Yet a rumor, while it may be wholly misleading as to fact, is always a proof that something is going to happen. For instance, last summer when the news was full of repeated reports of Hindenburg’s death, any sane man could foresee that what these reports really meant was not necessarily Hindenburg’s death at all, but Germany’s approaching military collapse. Some German prisoners had probably said “Hindenburg ist kaput,” meaning “Hindenburg is done for,” i.e., “The great offensive has failed.” This was taken to mean that he was literally dead.
In the same way, while probably no one seriously believes that Lenine is in Barcelona, the mere fact that Madrid thinks it possible shows very plainly that something is going on. It shows either that the Bolshevik experiment in Petrograd has been such a gorgeous success that Lenine can turn his attention to foreign campaigning, or that it has been such a gorgeous failure that he has had to skip. It does not prove, since the rumor is “unconfirmed,” that Lenine has gone anywhere yet; but it certainly does prove that he is going somewhere soon, even if only to the fortress of Peter and Paul. There may be some very simple explanation of the rumor. “You go to Barcelona!” may be a jocular Muscovite catchword, similar to our old saying about going to Halifax, and Trotzky may have said it to Lenine. At any rate it shows that the gold dust twins are not inseparable. It shows that Bolshevism in Russia is either very strong or very near downfall.
When we were told not long ago that Berlin was strangely gay for the capital of a prostrate nation and that all the cafes were crowded with dancers at night, many readers were amazed and tried to console their sense of probability by remarking that the Germans are crazy anyway. And yet this rumor of the dancing mania was an authentic premonition of the bloodier dance of death led by the Spartacus group. If Berlin did dance it was a cotillon of despair, caused by infinite war weariness, infinite hunger to forget humiliation for a few moments, and foreboding of troubles to come. Whether true or not, no one read the news without thinking it an ominous whisper.
Coming events cast their rumors before. From a careful study of rumors the discerning may learn a good deal, providing always that they never take them at face value but try to read beneath the surface. People sometimes criticize the newspapers for printing rumors, but it is an essential part of their function to do so, provided they plainly mark them as such. Shakespeare speaks of rumors as “stuffing the ears of men with false reports,” yet if so this is not the fault of the rumor itself, but of the too credible listener. The prosperity of a rumor is in the ear that hears it. The sagacious listener will take the trouble to sift and winnow his rumors, set them in perspective with what he knows of the facts and from them he will then deduce exceedingly valuable considerations. Rumor is the living atmosphere of men’s minds, the most fascinating and significant problem with which we have to deal. The Fact, the Truth, may shine like the sun, but after all it is the clouds that make the sunset beautiful. Keep your eye on the rumors, for a sufficient number of rumors can compel an event to happen, even against its will.