THREE UTOPIA’S FOR THE PRICE OF ONE…
Here’s a chance to choose the utopia you desire…
First chapters of :
A TRAVELER FROM ALTRURIA – W.D.Howells
NEWS FROM NOWHERE – William Morris
LOOKING BACKWARD – Edward Bellamy
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A TRAVELER FROM ALTRURIA – W.D.HOWELLS
I confess that with all my curiosity to meet an Altrurian, I was in no hospitable mood toward the traveler when he finally presented himself, pursuant to the letter of advice sent me by the friend who introduced him.
It would be easy enough to take care of him in the hotel; I had merely to engage a room for him, and have the clerk tell him his money was not good if he tried to pay for anything. But I had swung fairly into my story; its people were about me all the time; I dwelt amid its events and places, and I did not see how I could welcome my guest among them, or abandon them for him. Still, when he actually arrived, and I took his hand as he stepped from the train, I found it less difficult to say that I was glad to see him than I expected. In fact, I was glad, for I could not look upon his face without feeling a glow of kindness for him. I had not the least trouble in identifying him, for he was so unlike all the Americans who dismounted from the train with him, and who all looked hot, worried, and anxious. He was a man no longer young, but in what we call the heyday of life, when our own people are so absorbed in making provision for the future that they may be said not to live in the present at all. This Altrurian’s whole countenance, and especially his quiet, gentle eyes, expressed a vast contemporaneity, with bounds of leisure removed to the end of time; or, at least, this was the effect of something in them which I am obliged to report in rather fantastic terms. He was above the middle height, and he carried himself vigorously. His face was sunburned, or sea-burned, where it was not bearded; and, although I knew from my friend’s letter that he was a man of learning and distinction in his own country, I should never have supposed him a person of scholarly life, he was so far from sicklied over with anything like the pale cast of thought. When he took the hand I offered him in my half-hearted welcome he gave it a grasp that decided me to confine our daily greetings to something much less muscular.
“Let me have your bag,” I said, as we do when we meet people at the train, and he instantly bestowed a rather heavy valise upon me, with a smile in his benignant eyes, as if it had been the greatest favor. “Have you got any checks?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, in very good English, but with an accent new to me, “I bought two.” He gave them to me, and I passed them to our hotel porter, who was waiting there with the baggage-cart. Then I proposed that we should walk across the meadow to the house, which is a quarter of a mile or so from the station. We started, but he stopped suddenly and looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, you needn’t be troubled about your trunks,” I said. “The porter will get them to the house all right. They’ll be in your room by the time we get there.”
“But he’s putting them into the wagon himself,” said the Altrurian.
“Yes; he always does that. He’s a strong young fellow. He’ll manage it. You needn’t--” I could not finish saying he need not mind the porter; he was rushing back to the station, and I had the mortification of seeing him take an end of each trunk and help the porter toss it into the wagon; some lighter pieces he put in himself, and he did not stop till all the baggagethe train had left was disposed of.
I stood holding his valise, unable to put it down in my embarrassment at this eccentric performance, which had been evident not to me alone, but to all the people who arrived by the train, and all their friends who came from the hotel to meet them. A number of these passed me on the tally-ho coach; and a lady, who had got her husband with her for over Sunday, and was in very good spirits, called gayly down to me: “Your friend seems fondof exercise!”
“Yes,” I answered, dryly; the sparkling repartee which ought to have come to my help failed to show up. But it was impossible to be vexed with the Altrurian when he returned to me, unruffled by his bout with the baggage and serenely smiling.
“Do you know,” he said, “I fancied that good fellow was ashamed of my helping him. I hope it didn’t seem a reflection upon him in any way before your people? I ought to have thought of that.”
“I guess we can make it right with him. I dare say he felt more surprised than disgraced. But we must make haste a little now; your train was half an hour late, and we shall not stand so good a chance for supper if we are not there pretty promptly.”
“No?” said the Altrurian. “Why?”
“Well,” I said, with evasive lightness, “first come, first served, you know. That’s human nature.”
“Is it?” he returned, and he looked at me as one does who suspects another of joking.
“Well, isn’t it?” I retorted; but I hurried to add: “Besides, I want to have time after supper to show you a bit of our landscape. I think you’ll enjoy it.” I knew he had arrived in Boston that morning by steamer, and I now thought it high time to ask him: “Well, what do you think of America, anyway?” I ought really to have asked him this the moment he stepped from the train.
“Oh,” he said, “I’m intensely interested,” and I perceived that he spoke with a certain reservation. “As the most advanced country of its time, I’ve always been very curious to see it.”
The last sentence raised my dashed spirits again, and I said, confidently: “You must find our system of baggage-checks delightful.” I said this because it is one of the first things we brag of to foreigners, and I had the habit of it. “By-the-way,” I ventured to add, “I suppose you meant to say you _brought_ two checks when I asked you for them at the train just now? But you really said you _bought_ them.
“Yes,” the Altrurian replied, “I gave half a dollar apiece for them at the station in Boston. I saw other people doing it,” he explained, noting my surprise. “Isn’t it the custom?”
“I’m happy to say it isn’t yet, on most of our roads. They were tipping the baggage-man, to make sure that he checked their baggage in time and put it on the train. I had to do that myself when I came up; otherwise it might have got along here some time next day. But the system is perfect.”
“The poor man looked quite worn out,” said the Altrurian, “and I am glad I gave him something. He seemed to have several hundred pieces of baggage to look after, and he wasn’t embarrassed like your porter by my helping him put my trunks into the car. May I confess that the meanness of the station, its insufficient facilities, its shabby waiting-rooms, and its whole crowded and confused appearance gave me rather a bad impression?”
“I know,” I had to own, “it’s shameful; but you wouldn’t have found another station in the city so bad.”
“Ah, then,” said the Altrurian, “I suppose this particular road is too poor to employ more baggage-men or build new stations; they seemed rather shabby all the way up.”
“Well, no,” I was obliged to confess, “it’s one of the richest roads in the country. The stock stands at about 180. But I’m really afraid we shall be late to supper if we don’t get on,” I broke off; though I was not altogether sorry to arrive after the porter had disposed of the baggage. I dreaded another display of active sympathy on the part of my strange companion; I have often felt sorry myself for the porters of hotels, but I have never thought of offering to help them handle the heavy trunks that they manage.
The Altrurian was delighted with the hotel; and in fact it did look extremely pretty, with its branching piazzas full of well-dressed people, and its green lawns where the children were playing. I led the way to the room which I had taken for him next my own; it was simply furnished, but it was sweet with matting, fresh linen, and pure whitewashed walls. I flung open the window-blinds and let him get a glimpse of the mountains purpling under the sunset, the lake beneath, and the deeply foliaged shores.
“Glorious! glorious!” he sighed.
“Yes,” I modestly assented. “We think that’s rather fine.” He stood tranced before the window, and I thought I had better say: “Well, now I can’t give you much time to get the dust of travel off; the dining-room doors close at eight, and we must hurry down.”
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” he said, pulling off his coat.
I waited impatiently at the foot of the stairs, avoiding the question I met on the lips and in the eyes of my acquaintance. The fame of my friend’s behavior at the station must have spread through the whole place; and everybody wished to know who he was. I answered simply he was a traveler from Altruria; and in some cases I went further and explained that the Altrurians were peculiar.
In much less time than it seemed my friend found me; and then I had a little compensation for my suffering in his behalf. I could see that, whatever people said of him, they felt the same mysterious liking at sight of him that I had felt. He had made a little change in his dress, and I perceived that the women thought him not only good-looking but well-dressed. They followed him with their eyes as we went into the dining-room, and I was rather proud of being with him, as if I somehow shared the credit of his clothes and good looks. The Altrurian himself seemed most struck with the head-waiter, who showed us to our places, and while we were waiting for our supper I found a chance to explain that he was a divinity student from one of the fresh-water colleges, and was serving here during his summer vacation. This seemed to interest my friend so much that I went on to tell him that many of the waitresses, whom he saw standing there subject to the order of the guests, were country school-mistresses in the winter.
“Ah, that is as it should be,” he said; “that is the kind of thing I expected to meet with in America.”
“Yes,” I responded, in my flattered national vanity, “if America means anything at all it means the honor of work and the recognition of personal worth everywhere. I hope you are going to make a long stay with us. We like to have travelers visit us who can interpret the spirit of our institutions as well as read their letter. As a rule Europeans never quite get our point of view. Now a great many of these waitresses are ladies, in the true sense of the word--selfrespectful, intelligent, refined, and fit to grace--”
I was interrupted by the noise my friend made in suddenly pushing back his chair and getting to his feet. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “You’re not ill, I hope?”
But he did not hear me. He had run half down the dining-hall toward the slender young girl who was bringing us our supper. I had ordered rather generously, for my friend had owned to a good appetite, and I was hungry myself with waiting for him, so that the tray the girl carried was piled up with heavy dishes. To my dismay I saw, rather than heard at that distance, the Altrurian enter into a polite controversy with her, and then, as if overcoming all her scruples by sheer strength of will, possess himself of the tray and make off with it toward our table. The poor child followed him, blushing to her hair; the head-waiter stood looking helplessly on; the guests, who at that late hour were fortunately few, were simply aghast at the scandal; the Altrurian alone seemed to think his conduct the most natural thing in the world. He put the tray on the side-table near us, and in spite of our waitress’s protests insisted upon arranging the little bird-bath dishes before our plates. Then at last he sat down, and the girl, flushed and tremulous, left the room, as I could not help suspecting, to have a good cry in the kitchen. She did not come back, and the head-waiter, who was perhaps afraid to send another in her place, looked after our few wants himself. He kept a sharp eye on my friend, as if he were not quite sure he was safe, but the Altrurian resumed the conversation with all that lightness of spirits which I noticed in him after he helped the porter with the baggage. I did not think it the moment to take him to task for what he had just done; I was not even sure that it was the part of a host to do so at all, and between the one doubt and the other I left the burden of talk to him.
“What a charming young creature!” he began. “I never saw anything prettier than the way she had of refusing my help, absolutely without coquetry or affectation of any kind. She is, as you said, a perfect lady, and she graces her work, as I am sure she would grace any exigency of life. She quite realizes my ideal of an American girl, and I see now what the spirit of your country must be from such an expression of it.”
I wished to tell him that while a country school-teacher who waits at table in a summer hotel is very much to be respected in her sphere, she is not regarded with that high honor which some other women command among us; but I did not find this very easy, after what I had said of our esteem for labor; and while I was thinking how I could hedge, my friend went on.
“I liked England greatly, and I liked the English, but I could not like the theory of their civilization or the aristocratic structure of their society. It seemed to me iniquitous, for we believe that inequality and iniquity are the same in the last analysis.”
At this I found myself able to say: “Yes, there is something terrible, something shocking, in the frank brutality with which Englishmen affirm the essential inequality of men. The affirmation of the essential equality of men was the first point of departure with us when we separated from them.”
“I know,” said the Altrurian. “How grandly it is expressed in your glorious Declaration!”
“Ah, you have read our Declaration of Independence, then?”
“Every Altrurian has read that,” answered my friend.
“Well,” I went on smoothly, and I hoped to render what I was going to say the means of enlightening him without offence concerning the little mistake he had just made with the waitress, “of course we don’t take that in its closest literality.”
“I don’t understand you,” he said.
“Why, you know it was rather the political than the social traditions of England that we broke with, in the Revolution.”
“How is that?” he returned. “Didn’t you break with monarchy and nobility, and ranks and classes?”
“Yes, we broke with all those things.”
“But I found them a part of the social as well as the political structure in England. You have no kings or nobles here. Have you any ranks or classes?”
“Well, not exactly in the English sense. Our ranks and classes, such as we have, are what I may call voluntary.”
“Oh, I understand. I suppose that from time to time certain ones among you feel the need of serving, and ask leave of the commonwealth to subordinate themselves to the rest of the state and perform all the lowlier offices in it. Such persons must be held in peculiar honor. Is it something like that?”
“Well, no, I can’t say it’s quite like that. In fact I think I’d better let you trust to your own observation of our life.”
“But I’m sure,” said the Altrurian, with a simplicity so fine that it was a long time before I could believe it quite real, “that I shall approach it so much more intelligently with a little instruction from you. You say that your social divisions are voluntary. But do I understand that those who serve among you do not wish to do so?”
“Well, I don’t suppose they would serve if they could help it,” I replied.
“Surely,” said the Altrurian, with a look of horror, “you don’t mean that they are slaves.”
“Oh no! oh no!” I said; “the war put an end to that. We are all free now, black and white.”
“But if they do not wish to serve, and are not held in peculiar honor for serving--”
“I see that my word ‘voluntary’ has misled you,” I put in. “It isn’t the word exactly. The divisions among us are rather a process of natural selection. You will see, as you get better acquainted with the workings of our institutions, that there are no arbitrary distinctions here but the fitness of the work for the man and the man for the work determines the social rank that each one holds.”
“Ah, that is fine!” cried the Altrurian, with a glow of enthusiasm. “Then I suppose that these intelligent young people who teach school in winter and serve at table in the summer are in a sort of provisional state, waiting for the process of natural selection to determine whether they shall finally be teachers or waiters.”
“Yes, it might be stated in some such terms,” I assented, though I was not altogether easy in my mind. It seemed to me that I was not quite candid with this most candid spirit. I added: “You know we are a sort of fatalists here in America. We are great believers in the doctrine that it will all come out right in the end.”
“Ah, I don’t wonder at that,” said the Altrurian, “if the process of natural selection works so perfectly among you as you say. But I am afraid I don’t understand this matter of your domestic service yet. I believe you said that all honest work is honored in America. Then no social slight attaches to service, I suppose?”
“Well, I can’t say that, exactly. The fact is, a certain social slight does attach to service, and that is one reason why I don’t quite like to have students wait at table. It won’t be pleasant for them to remember it in after-life, and it won’t be pleasant for their children to remember it.”
“Then the slight would descend?”
“I think it would. One wouldn’t like to think one’s father or mother had been at service.”
The Altrurian said nothing for a moment. Then he remarked: “So it seems that while all honest work is honored among you, there are some kinds of honest work that are not honored so much as others.”
“Because some occupations are more degrading than others.”
“But why?” he persisted, as I thought, a little unreasonably.
“Really,” I said, “I think I must leave you to imagine.”
“I am afraid I can’t,” he said, sadly. “Then, if domestic service is degrading in your eyes, and people are not willing servants among you, may I ask why any are servants?”
“It is a question of bread-and-butter. They are obliged to be.”
“That is, they are forced to do work that is hateful and disgraceful to them because they cannot live without?”
“Excuse me,” I said, not at all liking this sort of pursuit, and feeling it fair to turn even upon a guest who kept it up. “Isn’t it so with you in Altruria?”
“It was so once,” he admitted, “but not now. In fact, it is like a waking dream to find one’s self in the presence of conditions here that we outlived so long ago.”
There was an unconscious superiority in this speech that nettled me, and stung me to retort: “We do not expect to outlive them. We regard them as final, and as indestructibly based in human nature itself.”
“Ah,” said the Altrurian, with a delicate and caressing courtesy, “have I said something offensive?”
“Not at all,” I hastened to answer. “It is not surprising that you did not get our point of view exactly. You will by-and-by, and then, I think, you will see that it is the true one. We have found that the logic of our convictions could not be applied to the problem of domestic service. It is everywhere a very curious and perplexing problem. The simple old solution of the problem was to own your servants; but we found that this was not consistent with the spirit of our free institutions. As soon as it was abandoned the anomaly began. We had outlived the primitive period when the housekeeper worked with her domestics and they were her help, and were called so; and we had begun to have servants to do all the household work, and to call them so. This state of things never seemed right to some of our purest and best people. They fancied, as you seem to have done, that to compel people through their necessities to do your hateful drudgery, and to wound and shame them with a name which every American instinctively resents, was neither republican nor Christian. Some of our thinkers tried to mend matters by making their domestics a part of their families; and in the life of Emerson you’ll find an amusing account of his attempt to have his servant eat at the same table with himself and his wife. It wouldn’t work. He and his wife could stand it, but the servant couldn’t.”
I paused, for this was where the laugh ought to have come in. The Altrurian did not laugh, he merely asked, “Why?”
“Well, because the servant knew, if they didn’t, that they were a whole world apart in their traditions, and were no more fit to associate than New-Englanders and New-Zealanders. In the mere matter of education--”
“But I thought you said that these young girls who wait at table here were teachers.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon; I ought to have explained. By this time it had become impossible, as it now is, to get American girls to take service except on some such unusual terms as we have in a summer hotel; and the domestics were already ignorant foreigners, fit for nothing else. In such a place as this it isn’t so bad. It is more as if the girls worked in a shop or a factory. They command their own time, in a measure, their hours are tolerably fixed, and they have one another’s society. In a private family they would be subject to order at all times, and they would have no social life. They would be in the family, out not of it. American girls understand this, and so they won’t go out to service in the usual way.
Even in a summer hotel the relation has its odious aspects. The system of giving fees seems to me degrading to those who have to take them. To offer a student or a teacher a dollar for personal service--it isn’t right, or I can’t make it so. In fact, the whole thing is rather anomalous with us.
The best that you can say of it is that it works, and we don’t know what else to do.”
“But I don’t see yet,” said the Altrurian, “just why domestic service is degrading in a country where all kinds of work are honored.”
“Well, my dear fellow, I have done my best to explain. As I intimated before, we distinguish; and in the different kinds of labor we distinguish against domestic service. I dare say it is partly because of the loss of independence which it involves. People naturally despise a dependant.”
“Why?” asked the Altrurian, with that innocence of his which I was beginning to find rather trying.
“Why?” I retorted. “Because it implies weakness.”
“And is weakness considered despicable among you?” he pursued.
“In every community it is despised practically, if not theoretically,” I tried to explain. “The great thing that America has done is to offer the race an opportunity--the opportunity for any man to rise above the rest and to take the highest place, if he is able.” I had always been proud of this fact, and I thought I had put it very well, but the Altrurian did not seem much impressed by it.
He said: “I do not see how it differs from any country of the past in that. But perhaps you mean that to rise carries with it an obligation to those below ‘If any is first among you, let him be your servant.’ Is it something like that?”
“Well, it is not quite like that,” I answered, remembering how very little our self-made men as a class had done for others. “Every one is expected to look out for himself here. I fancy that there would be very little rising if men were expected to rise for the sake of others, in America.
How is it with you in Altruria?” I demanded, hoping to get out of a certain discomfort I felt in that way. “Do your risen men generally devote themselves to the good of the community after they get to the top?”
“There is no rising among us,” he said, with what seemed a perception of the harsh spirit of my question; and he paused a moment before he asked in his turn: “How do men rise among you?”
“That would be rather a long story,” I replied. “But, putting it in the rough, I should say that they rose by their talents, their shrewdness, their ability to seize an advantage and turn it to their own account.”
“And is that considered noble?”
“It is considered smart. It is considered at the worst far better than a dead level of equality. Are all men equal in Altruria? Are they all alike gifted or beautiful, or short or tall?”
“No, they are only equal in duties and in rights. But, as you said just now, that is a very long story. Are they equal in nothing here?”
“They are equal in opportunities.”
“Ah!” breathed the Altrurian, “I am glad to hear that.”
I began to feel a little uneasy, and I was not quite sure that this last assertion of mine would hold water. Everybody but ourselves had now left the dining-room, and I saw the head-waiter eying us impatiently. I pushed back my chair and said: “I’m sorry to seem to hurry you, but I should like to show you a very pretty sunset effect we have here before it is too dark. When we get back, I want to introduce you to a few of my friends. Of course, I needn’t tell you that there is a good deal of curiosity about you, especially among the ladies.”
“Yes, I found that the case in England, largely. It was the women who cared most to meet me. I understand that in America society is managed even more by women than it is in England.”
“It’s entirely in their hands,” I said, with the satisfaction we all feel in the fact. “We have no other leisure class. The richest men among us are generally hard workers; devotion to business is the rule; but, as soon as a man reaches the point where he can afford to pay for domestic service, his wife and daughters expect to be released from it to the cultivation of their minds and the enjoyment of social pleasures. It’s quite right.
That is what makes them so delightful to foreigners. You must have heard their praises chanted in England. The English find our men rather stupid,I believe; but they think our women are charming.”
“Yes, I was told that the wives of their nobility were sometimes Americans,” said the Altrurian. “The English think that you regard such marriages as a great honor, and that they are very gratifying to your national pride.”
“Well, I suppose that is so in a measure,” I confessed. “I imagine that it will not be long before the English aristocracy derives as largely from American millionaires as from kings’ mistresses. Not,” I added, virtuously, “that we approve of aristocracy.”
“No, I understand that,” said the Altrurian. “I shall hope to get your point of view in this matter more distinctly by-and-by. As yet, I’m a little vague about it.”
“I think I can gradually make it clear to you,” I returned.
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NEWS FROM NOWHERE
CHAPTER I: DISCUSSION AND BED
Up at the League, says a friend, there had been one night a brisk conversational discussion, as to what would happen on the Morrow of the Revolution, finally shading off into a vigorous statement by various friends of their views on the future of the fully-developed new society.
Says our friend: Considering the subject, the discussion was good-tempered; for those present being used to public meetings and after- lecture debates, if they did not listen to each others' opinions (which could scarcely be expected of them), at all events did not always attempt to speak all together, as is the custom of people in ordinary polite society when conversing on a subject which interests them. For the rest, there were six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented, four of which had strong but divergent Anarchist
opinions. One of the sections, says our friend, a man whom he knows very well indeed, sat almost silent at the beginning of the discussion, but at last got drawn into it, and finished by roaring out very loud, and damning all the rest for fools; after which befel a period of noise, and then a lull, during which the aforesaid section, having said good-night very amicably, took his way home by himself to a western suburb, using the means of travelling which civilisation has forced upon us like a habit. As he sat in that vapour-bath of hurried and discontented humanity, a carriage of the underground railway, he, like others, stewed discontentedly, while in self-reproachful mood he turned over the many excellent and conclusive arguments which, though they lay at his fingers' ends, he had forgotten in the just past discussion. But this frame of mind he was so used to, that it didn't last him long, and after a brief discomfort, caused by disgust with himself for having lost his temper (which he was also well used to), he found himself musing on the subject- matter of discussion, but still discontentedly and unhappily. "If I could but see a day of it," he said to himself; "if I could but see it!"
As he formed the words, the train stopped at his station, five minutes' walk from his own house, which stood on the banks of the Thames, a little way above an ugly suspension bridge. He went out of the station, still discontented and unhappy, muttering "If I could but see it! if I could but see it!" but had not gone many steps towards the river before (says our friend who tells the story) all that discontent and trouble seemed to slip off him.
It was a beautiful night of early winter, the air just sharp enough to be refreshing after the hot room and the stinking railway carriage. The wind, which had lately turned a point or two north of west, had blown the sky clear of all cloud save a light fleck or two which went swiftly down the heavens. There was a young moon halfway up the sky, and as the home-
farer caught sight of it, tangled in the branches of a tall old elm, he could scarce bring to his mind the shabby London suburb where he was, and he felt as if he were in a pleasant country place--pleasanter, indeed, than the deep country was as he had known it.
He came right down to the river-side, and lingered a little, looking over the low wall to note the moonlit river, near upon high water, go swirling and glittering up to Chiswick Eyot: as for the ugly bridge below, he did not notice it or think of it, except when for a moment (says our friend) it struck him that he missed the row of lights down stream. Then he turned to his house door and let himself in; and even as he shut the door to, disappeared all remembrance of that brilliant logic and foresight which had so illuminated the recent discussion; and of the discussion itself there remained no trace, save a vague hope, that was now become a pleasure, for days of peace and rest, and cleanness and smiling goodwill.
In this mood he tumbled into bed, and fell asleep after his wont, in two minutes' time; but (contrary to his wont) woke up again not long after in that curiously wide-awake condition which sometimes surprises even good sleepers; a condition under which we feel all our wits preternaturally sharpened, while all the miserable muddles we have ever got into, all the
disgraces and losses of our lives, will insist on thrusting themselves forward for the consideration of those sharpened wits.
In this state he lay (says our friend) till he had almost begun to enjoy it: till the tale of his stupidities amused him, and the entanglements before him, which he saw so clearly, began to shape themselves into an amusing story for him.
He heard one o'clock strike, then two and then three; after which he fell asleep again. Our friend says that from that sleep he awoke once more, and afterwards went through such surprising adventures that he thinks that they should be told to our comrades, and indeed the public in general, and therefore proposes to tell them now. But, says he, I think it would be better if I told them in the first person, as if it were myself who had gone through them; which, indeed, will be the easier and more natural to me, since I understand the feelings and desires of the comrade of whom I am telling better than any one else in the world does.
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From 2000 to 1887
Historical Section Shawmut College, Boston,
December 26, 2000
Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century, enjoying the blessings of a social order at once so simple and logical that it seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no doubt difficult for those whose studies have not been largely historical to realize that the present organization of society is, in its completeness, less than a century old. No historical fact is, however, better established than that till nearly the end of the nineteenth century it was the general belief that the ancient industrial system, with all its shocking social consequences, was destined to last, with possibly a little patching, to the end of time. How strange and wellnigh incredible does it seem that so prodigious a moral and material transformation as has taken place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an interval! The readiness with which men accustom themselves, as matters of course, to
improvements in their condition, which, when anticipated, seemed to leave nothing more to be desired, could not be more strikingly illustrated. What reflection could be better calculated to moderate the enthusiasm of reformers who count for their reward on the lively gratitude of future ages!
The object of this volume is to assist persons who, while desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are daunted by the formal aspect of the histories which treat the subject. Warned by a teacher's experience that learning is accounted a weariness to the flesh, the author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, which he would be glad to fancy not wholly devoid of interest on its own account.
The reader, to whom modern social institutions and their underlying principles are matters of course, may at times find Dr. Leete's explanations of them rather trite--but it must be remembered that to Dr. Leete's guest they were not matters of course, and that this book is written for the express purpose of inducing the reader to forget for the nonce that they are so to him. One word more. The almost universal theme of the writers and orators who have celebrated this bimillennial epoch has been the future rather than the past, not the advance that has been made, but the progress that shall be made, ever onward and upward, till the race shall achieve its ineffable destiny. This is well, wholly well, but it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next one thousand years, than by "Looking Backward" upon the progress of the last one hundred.
That this volume may be so fortunate as to find readers whose interest in the subject shall incline them to overlook the deficiencies of the treatment is the hope in which the author steps aside and leaves Mr. Julian West to speak for himself.
I first saw the light in the city of Boston in the year 1857. "What!" you say, "eighteen fifty-seven? That is an odd slip. He means nineteen fifty-seven, of course." I beg pardon, but there is no mistake. It was about four in the afternoon of December the 26th, one day after Christmas, in the year 1857, not 1957, that I first breathed the east wind of Boston, which, I assure the reader, was at that remote period marked by the same penetrating quality characterizing it in the present year of grace, 2000.
These statements seem so absurd on their face, especially when I add that I am a young man apparently of about thirty years of age, that no person can be blamed for refusing to read another word of what promises to be a mere imposition upon his credulity. Nevertheless I earnestly assure the reader that no imposition is intended, and will undertake, if he shall follow me a few pages, to entirely convince him of this. If I may, then, provisionally assume, with the pledge of justifying the assumption, that I know better than the reader when I was born, I will go on with my narrative. As every schoolboy knows, in the latter part of the nineteenth century the civilization of to-day, or anything like it, did not exist, although the elements which were to develop it were already in ferment. Nothing had, however, occurred to modify the immemorial division of society into the four classes, or nations, as they may be more fitly called, since the differences between them were far greater than those between any nations nowadays, of the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant. I myself was rich and also educated, and possessed, therefore, all the elements of happiness enjoyed by the most fortunate in that age. Living in luxury, and occupied only with the pursuit of the pleasures and refinements of life, I derived the means of my support from the labor of others,
rendering no sort of service in return. My parents and grand-parents had lived in the same way, and I expected that my descendants, if I had any, would enjoy a like easy existence.
But how could I live without service to the world? you ask. Why should the world have supported in utter idleness one who was able to render service? The answer is that my great-grandfather had accumulated a sum of money on which his descendants had ever since lived. The sum, you will naturally infer, must have been very large not to have been exhausted in supporting three generations in idleness. This, however, was not the fact. The sum had been originally by no means large. It was, in fact, much larger now that three generations had been supported upon it in idleness, than it was at first. This mystery of use without consumption, of warmth without combustion, seems like magic, but was merely an ingenious application of the art now happily lost but carried to great perfection by your ancestors, of shifting the burden of one's support on the shoulders of others. The man who had accomplished this, and it was the end all sought, was said to live on the income of his investments. To explain at this point how the ancient methods of industry made this possible would delay us too much. I shall only stop now to say that interest on investments was a species of tax in perpetuity upon the product of those engaged in industry which a person possessing or inheriting money was able to levy. It must not be supposed that an arrangement which seems so unnatural and preposterous according to modern notions was never criticized by your ancestors. It had been the effort of lawgivers and prophets from the earliest ages to abolish interest, or at least to limit it to the smallest possible rate. All these efforts had, however, failed, as they necessarily must so long as the ancient social organizations prevailed. At the time of which I write, the latter part of the nineteenth century, governments had generally given up trying to regulate the subject at all.
By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest
ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team.
Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly
compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.
But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them? Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of
feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy
salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.
It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages, they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.
I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond remedy.
The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.
In 1887 I came to my thirtieth year. Although still unmarried, I was engaged to wed Edith Bartlett. She, like myself, rode on the top of the coach. That is to say, not to encumber ourselves further with an illustration which has, I hope, served its purpose of giving the reader some general impression of how we lived then, her family was wealthy. In that age, when money alone commanded all that was agreeable and refined in life, it was enough for a woman to be rich to have suitors; but Edith Bartlett was beautiful and graceful also.
My lady readers, I am aware, will protest at this. "Handsome she might have been," I hear them saying, "but graceful never, in the costumes which were the fashion at that period, when the head covering was a dizzy structure a foot tall, and the almost incredible extension of the
skirt behind by means of artificial contrivances more thoroughly dehumanized the form than any former device of dressmakers. Fancy any one graceful in such a costume!" The point is certainly well taken, and I can only reply that while the ladies of the twentieth century are lovely demonstrations of the effect of appropriate drapery in accenting feminine graces, my recollection of their great-grandmothers enables me to maintain that no deformity of costume can wholly disguise them.
Our marriage only waited on the completion of the house which I was building for our occupancy in one of the most desirable parts of the city, that is to say, a part chiefly inhabited by the rich. For it must be understood that the comparative desirability of different parts of
Boston for residence depended then, not on natural features, but on the character of the neighboring population. Each class or nation lived by itself, in quarters of its own. A rich man living among the poor, an educated man among the uneducated, was like one living in isolation among a jealous and alien race. When the house had been begun, its completion by the winter of 1886 had been expected. The spring of the following year found it, however, yet incomplete, and my marriage still a thing of the future. The cause of a delay calculated to be
particularly exasperating to an ardent lover was a series of strikes, that is to say, concerted refusals to work on the part of the brick-layers, masons, carpenters, painters, plumbers, and other trades concerned in house building. What the specific causes of these strikes were I do not remember. Strikes had become so common at that period that people had ceased to inquire into their particular grounds. In one department of industry or another, they had been nearly incessant ever since the great business crisis of 1873. In fact it had come to be the exceptional thing to see any class of laborers pursue their avocation
steadily for more than a few months at a time.
The reader who observes the dates alluded to will of course recognize in these disturbances of industry the first and incoherent phase of the great movement which ended in the establishment of the modern industrial system with all its social consequences. This is all so
plain in the retrospect that a child can understand it, but not being prophets, we of that day had no clear idea what was happening to us. What we did see was that industrially the country was in a very queer way. The relation between the workingman and the employer, between labor and capital, appeared in some unaccountable manner to have become dislocated. The working classes had quite suddenly and very generally become infected with a profound discontent with their condition, and an idea that it could be greatly bettered if they only knew how to go about it. On every side, with one accord, they preferred demands for
higher pay, shorter hours, better dwellings, better educational advantages, and a share in the refinements and luxuries of life, demands which it was impossible to see the way to granting unless the world were to become a great deal richer than it then was. Though they knew something of what they wanted, they knew nothing of how to accomplish it, and the eager enthusiasm with which they thronged about any one who seemed likely to give them any light on the subject lent sudden reputation to many would-be leaders, some of whom had little
enough light to give. However chimerical the aspirations of the laboring classes might be deemed, the devotion with which they supported one another in the strikes, which were their chief weapon, and the sacrifices which they underwent to carry them out left no doubt
of their dead earnestness.
As to the final outcome of the labor troubles, which was the phrase by which the movement I have described was most commonly referred to, the opinions of the people of my class differed according to individual temperament. The sanguine argued very forcibly that it was in the very nature of things impossible that the new hopes of the workingmen could be satisfied, simply because the world had not the wherewithal to satisfy them. It was only because the masses worked very hard and lived on short commons that the race did not starve outright, and no considerable improvement in their condition was possible while the
world, as a whole, remained so poor. It was not the capitalists whom the laboring men were contending with, these maintained, but the iron-bound environment of humanity, and it was merely a question of the thickness of their skulls when they would discover the fact and make up their minds to endure what they could not cure.
The less sanguine admitted all this. Of course the workingmen's aspirations were impossible of fulfillment for natural reasons, but there were grounds to fear that they would not discover this fact until they had made a sad mess of society. They had the votes and the power to do so if they pleased, and their leaders meant they should. Some of these desponding observers went so far as to predict an impending social cataclysm. Humanity, they argued, having climbed to the top round of the ladder of civilization, was about to take a header into chaos, after which it would doubtless pick itself up, turn round, and begin to climb again. Repeated experiences of this sort in historic and prehistoric times possibly accounted for the puzzling bumps on the human cranium. Human history, like all great movements, was cyclical, and returned to the point of beginning. The idea of indefinite progress in a right line was a chimera of the imagination, with no analogue in nature. The parabola of a comet was perhaps a yet better illustration of the career of humanity. Tending upward and sunward from the aphelion of barbarism, the race attained the perihelion of civilization only to
plunge downward once more to its nether goal in the regions of chaos.
This, of course, was an extreme opinion, but I remember serious men among my acquaintances who, in discussing the signs of the times, adopted a very similar tone. It was no doubt the common opinion of thoughtful men that society was approaching a critical period which might result in great changes. The labor troubles, their causes, course, and cure, took lead of all other topics in the public prints, and in serious conversation.
The nervous tension of the public mind could not have been more strikingly illustrated than it was by the alarm resulting from the talk of a small band of men who called themselves anarchists, and proposed to terrify the American people into adopting their ideas by threats of
violence, as if a mighty nation which had but just put down a rebellion of half its own numbers, in order to maintain its political system, were likely to adopt a new social system out of fear.
As one of the wealthy, with a large stake in the existing order of things, I naturally shared the apprehensions of my class. The particular grievance I had against the working classes at the time of which I write, on account of the effect of their strikes in postponing my wedded bliss, no doubt lent a special animosity to my feeling toward them.
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