A new communication from Belgium — King Leopold sent a greeting to our Institution in Bruges and gave permission to use the inscription "In memory of Albert I, King of Belgium." His name more than anything responds to my thoughts. Since the very beginning of the formation of our Pact, the memory of heroic Belgium and its knight-king was constantly in my thoughts and remembrances.
The name of King Albert, his entire creative achievement for the good of his country, his military heroism, his broad views and deep magnanimity were always precious to me. Verily in these disturbing times it is joyous to have before one's eyes such a clear image of a heroic knight, without fear and blame, brilliantly spending his whole life in indefatigable labors for the well-being of his people.
It is significant when a cultural and enlightened institution has a true reason to be forever linked with the name of a valiant hero. King Albert found time to investigate the most diverse needs for the people's constructiveness. In spite of his vast labors he always found time to listen to, and give expression to, everything worthy.
In the archives of our Institution in Bruges there is substantial proof of the benevolent attitude of the late King to our Pact. The chairman of our Committee, Mr. Tulpinck, justly recalls this fact in his message for the day of our Third International Convention in Washington. "Together with our Belgian Committee, with all joy of the heart, we unite in reverence for the unforgettable name of King Albert. We are enthused by the realization that this most worthy, unforgettable name will be upon the shield of our Institution."
Nations should possess the full possibility of having upon the shields of their institutions dedicated to culture the names of their rulers, leaders, and heads, who led the people on a difficult and blessed path of true progress. Happy are those nations which can do so in full justice. Where the name of the king or leader could rightly be used at the head of everything, on all paths of life, there is created an impulse to follow him into the future.
The news about the untimely death of King Albert reached us on the train near Genoa. It seemed absolutely unacceptable. We could not accept the fact that a hero had left the world, whose name alone was a pledge toward an affirmation of constructive achievement to which the late King was devoted heart and soul. Not just a good, highly educated man passed away. A hero passed away, and there are so few heroes now.
Humanity should safeguard its heroes. It also should preserve their memory, for in this alone will be a healthy, creative inspiration. Life is dismal without a hero. It is more valuable that such heroes do exist not only upon the pages of legends, becoming god-like myths, but they also are sent in our times. They labor, create, and battle for good in these days. People can see them. A multitude of their companions in arms sense the touch of their encouraging hand and hear the ringing word. Our times are not forsaken. The name of King Albert will remain beside these indisputable heroes, so needed not only for their country but for the honor and dignity of all mankind.
Heroism is not selfhood. Heroism is true altruism. In heroism lives and glows self-renunciation and sacrifice. Fame accompanies a hero; it is not an intentional inscription, but a natural coat of arms on his glorious shield.
In March of 1914 I completed a painting "Fire" Upon the background of a Belgian castle, near the sculpture of a Belgian lion, a knight in full armor stands on guard. The entire sky is flooded with the bloody, red fire. Upon the towers and windows of the old castle fiery hieroglyphics are already flaring up. Yet the noble knight stands vigilant on his unchangeable watch. Of course, four months later the whole world knew that this noble knight was King Albert himself, who safeguarded the dignity of the Belgian lion.
And formerly when I had occasion to be in ancient Bruges, we heard so many heartfelt stories about the royal family. The old lace-woman speaking about the wonderful court laces also spoke in hearty words about the king himself, the queen, their family, so simple, easy to approach, dear to the heart of the people. Many signs about Belgium passed before my eyes. And there was not even once a cloud darkening the great name of the King. Is it not remarkable? Is it not significant for a foreigner, who in his travels could hear anything? But the testimonies were only good ones. And this shall be an unalterable joy, linked with the name of King Albert and his family.
And now, in the Mongolian desert, there is also joy in having the possibility of writing down these words. After all, in every good inscription there is definitely something calling, unifying, and opening the heart. We should be grateful to a hero who through his achievement enables us to open the heart and look with friendliness into the eyes of our neighbor.
June 9, 1935