"But," said I, "locality of residence is often quite as important as the kind of one's occupation. For example, one might not wish to be separated from parents, and certainly would not wish to be from a sweetheart, however agreeable the occupation assigned might be in other respects."
"Very true," said the doctor. "If, indeed, our industrial system undertook to separate lovers and friends, husbands and wives, parents and children, without regard to their wishes, it certainly would not last long. You see this column of localities. If you make your cross against Boston in that column, it becomes imperative upon the administration to provide you employment somewhere in this district. It is one of the rights of every citizen to demand employment within his home district. Otherwise, as you say, ties of love and friendship might be rudely broken. But, of course, one can not have his cake and eat it too; if you make work in the home district imperative, you may have to take an occupation to which you would have preferred some other that might have been open to you had you been willing to leave home. However, it is not common that one needs to sacrifice a chosen career to the ties of affection. The country is divided into industrial districts or circles, in each of which there is intended to be as nearly as possible a complete system of industry, wherein all the important arts and occupations are represented. It is in this way made possible for most of us to find an opportunity in a chosen occupation without separation from friends. This is the more simply done, as the modern means of communication have so far abolished distance that the man who lives in Boston and works in Springfield, one hundred miles away, is quite as near his place of business as was the average workingman of your day. One who, living in Boston, should work two hundred miles away (in Albany), would be far better situated than the average suburbanite doing business in Boston a century ago. But while a great number desire to find occupations at home, there are also many who from love of change much prefer to leave the scenes of their childhood. These, too, indicate their preferences by marking the number of the district to which they prefer to be assigned. Second or third preferences may likewise be indicated, so that it would go hard indeed if one could not obtain a location in at least the part of the country he desired, though the locality preference is imperative only when the person desires to stay in the home district. Otherwise it is consulted so far as consistent with conflicting claims. The volunteer having thus filled out his preference blank, takes it to the proper registrar and has his ranking officially stamped upon it."
"What is the ranking?" I asked.
"It is the figure which indicates his previous standing in the schools and during his service as an unclassified worker, and is supposed to give the best attainable criterion thus far of his relative intelligence, efficiency, and devotion to duty. Where there are more volunteers for particular occupations than there is room for, the lowest in ranking have to be content with a second or third preference. The preference blanks are finally handed in at the local exchange, and are collated at the central office of the industrial district. All who have made home work imperative are first provided for in accordance with rank. The blanks of those preferring work in other districts are forwarded to the national bureau and there collated with those from other districts, so that the volunteers may be provided for as nearly as may be according to their wishes, subject, where conflict of claim arises, to their relative ranking right. It has always been observed that the personal eccentricities of individuals in great bodies have a wonderful tendency to balance and mutually complement one another, and this principle is strikingly illustrated in our system of choice of occupation and locality. The preference blanks are filled out in June, and by the first of August everybody knows just where he or she is to report for service in October.
"However, if any one has received an assignment which is decidedly unwelcome either as to location or occupation, it is not even then, or indeed at any time, too late to endeavor to find another. The administration has done its best to adjust the individual aptitude and wishes of each worker to the needs of the public service, but its machinery is at his service for any further attempts he may wish to make to suit himself better."
And then the doctor took me to the Transfer Department and showed me how persons who were dissatisfied either with their assignment of occupation or locality could put themselves in communication with all others in any part of the country who were similarly dissatisfied, and arrange, subject to liberal regulations, such exchanges as might be mutually agreeable.
"If a person is not absolutely unwilling to do anything at all," he said, "and does not object to all parts of the country equally, he ought to be able sooner or later to provide himself both with pretty nearly the occupation and locality he desires. And if, after all, there should be any one so dull that he can not hope to succeed in his occupation or make a better exchange with another, yet there is no occupation now tolerated by the state which would not have been as to its conditions a godsend to the most fortunately situated workman of your day. There is none in which peril to life or health is not reduced to a minimum, and the dignity and rights of the worker absolutely guaranteed. It is a constant study of the administration so to bait the less attractive occupations with special advantages as to leisure and otherwise always to keep the balance of preference between them as nearly true as possible; and if, finally, there were any occupation which, after all, remained so distasteful as to attract no volunteers, and yet was necessary, its duties would be performed by all in rotation."
"As, for example," I said, "the work of repairing and cleansing the sewers."
"If that sort of work were as offensive as it must have been in your day, I dare say it might have to be done by a rotation in which all would take their turn," replied the doctor, "but our sewers are as clean as our streets. They convey only water which has been chemically purified and deodorized before it enters them by an apparatus connected with every dwelling. By the same apparatus all solid sewage is electrically cremated, and removed in the form of ashes. This improvement in the sewer system, which followed the great Revolution very closely, might have waited a hundred years before introduction but for the Revolution, although the necessary scientific knowledge and appliances had long been available. The case furnishes merely one instance out of a thousand of the devices for avoiding repulsive and perilous sorts of work which, while simple enough, the world would never have troubled itself to adopt so long as the rich had in the poor a race of uncomplaining economic serfs on which to lay all their burdens. The effect of economic equality was to make it equally the interest of all to avoid, so far as possible, the more unpleasant tasks, since henceforth they must be shared by all. In this way, wholly apart from the moral aspects of the matter, the progress of chemical, sanitary, and mechanical science owes an incalculable debt to the Revolution."
"Probably," I said, "you have sometimes eccentric persons—'crooked sticks' we used to call them—who refuse to adapt themselves to the social order on any terms or admit any such thing as social duty. If such a person should flatly refuse to render any sort of industrial or useful service on any terms, what would be done with him? No doubt there is a compulsory side to your system for dealing with such persons?"
"Not at all," replied the doctor. "If our system can not stand on its merits as the best possible arrangement for promoting the highest welfare of all, let it fall. As to the matter of industrial service, the law is simply that if any one shall refuse to do his or her part toward the maintenance of the social order he shall not be allowed to partake of its benefits. It would obviously not be fair to the rest that he should do so. But as to compelling him to work against his will by force, such an idea would be abhorrent to our people. The service of society is, above all, a service of honor, and all its associations are what you used to call chivalrous. Even as in your day soldiers would not serve with skulkers, but drummed cowards out of the camp, so would our workers refuse the companionship of persons openly seeking to evade their civic duty."
"But what do you do with such persons?"
"If an adult, being neither criminal nor insane, should deliberately and fixedly refuse to render his quota of service in any way, either in a chosen occupation or, on failure to choose, in an assigned one, he would be furnished with such a collection of seeds and tools as he might choose and turned loose on a reservation expressly prepared for such persons, corresponding a little perhaps with the reservations set apart for such Indians in your day as were unwilling to accept civilization. There he would be left to work out a better solution of the problem of existence than our society offers, if he could do so. We think we have the best possible social system, but if there is a better we want to know it, so that we may adopt it. We encourage the spirit of experiment."
"And are there really cases," I said, "of individuals who thus voluntarily abandon society in preference to fulfilling their social duty?"
"There have been such cases, though I do not know that there are any at the present time. But the provision for them exists."
HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE.
When we reached the house the doctor said:
"I am going to leave you to Edith this morning. The fact is, my duties as mentor, while extremely to my taste, are not quite a sinecure. The questions raised in our talks frequently suggest the necessity of refreshing my general knowledge of the contrasts between your day and this by looking up the historical authorities. The conversation this morning has indicated lines of research which will keep me busy in the library the rest of the day."
I found Edith in the garden, and received her congratulations upon my fully fledged citizenship. She did not seem at all surprised on learning my intention promptly to find a place in the industrial service.
"Of course you will want to enter the service as soon as you can," she said. "I knew you would. It is the only way to get in touch with the people and feel really one of the nation. It is the great event we all look forward to from childhood."
"Talking of industrial service," I said, "reminds me of a question it has a dozen times occurred to me to ask you. I understand that everyone who is able to do so, women as well as men, serves the nation from twenty-one to forty-five years of age in some useful occupation; but so far as I have seen, although you are the picture of health and vigor, you have no employment, but are quite like young ladies of elegant leisure in my day, who spent their time sitting in the parlor and looking handsome. Of course, it is highly agreeable to me that you should be so free, but how, exactly, is so much leisure on your part squared with the universal obligation of service?"
Edith was greatly amused. "And so you thought I was shirking? Had it not occurred to you that there might probably be such things as vacations or furloughs in the industrial service, and that the rather unusual and interesting guest in our household might furnish a natural occasion for me to take an outing if I could get it?"
"And can you take your vacation when you please?"
"We can take a portion of it when we please, always subject, of course, to the needs of the service."
"But what do you do when you are at work—teach school, paint china, keep books for the Government, stand behind a counter in the public stores, or operate a typewriter or telegraph wire?"
"Does that list exhaust the number of women's occupations in your day?"
"Oh, no; those were only some of their lighter and pleasanter occupations. Women were also the scrubbers, the washers, the servants of all work. The most repulsive and humiliating kinds of drudgery were put off upon the women of the poorer class; but I suppose, of course, you do not do any such work."
"You may be sure that I do my part of whatever unpleasant things there are to do, and so does every one in the nation; but, indeed, we have long ago arranged affairs so that there is very little such work to do. But, tell me, were there no women in your day who were machinists, farmers, engineers, carpenters, iron workers, builders, engine drivers, or members of the other great crafts?"
"There were no women in such occupations. They were followed by men only."
"I suppose I knew that," she said; "I have read as much; but it is strange to talk with a man of the nineteenth century who is so much like a man of to-day and realize that the women were so different as to seem like another order of beings."
"But, really," said I, "I don't understand how in these respects the women can do very differently now unless they are physically much stronger. Most of these occupations you have just mentioned were too heavy for their strength, and for that reason, largely, were limited to men, as I should suppose they must still be."
"There is not a trade or occupation in the whole list," replied Edith, "in which women do not take part. It is partly because we are physically much more vigorous than the poor creatures of your time that we do the sorts of work that were too heavy for them, but it is still more an account of the perfection of machinery. As we have grown stronger, all sorts of work have grown lighter. Almost no heavy work is done directly now; machines do all, and we only need to guide them, and the lighter the hand that guides, the better the work done. So you see that nowadays physical qualities have much less to do than mental with the choice of occupations. The mind is constantly getting nearer to the work, and father says some day we may be able to work by sheer will power directly and have no need of hands at all. It is said that there are actually more women than men in great machine works. My mother was first lieutenant in a great iron works. Some have a theory that the sense of power which one has in controlling giant engines appeals to women's sensibilities even more than to men's. But really it is not quite fair to make you guess what my occupation is, for I have not fully decided on it."
"But you said you were already at work."
"Oh, yes, but you know that before we choose our life occupation we are three years in the unclassified or miscellaneous class of workers. I am in my second year in that class."
"What do you do?"
"A little of everything and nothing long. The idea is to give us during that period a little practical experience in all the main departments of work, so that we may know better how and what to choose as an occupation. We are supposed to have got through with the schools before we enter this class, but really I have learned more since I have been at work than in twice the time spent in school. You can not imagine how perfectly delightful this grade of work is. I don't wonder some people prefer to stay in it all their lives for the sake of the constant change in tasks, rather than elect a regular occupation. Just now I am among the agricultural workers on the great farm near Lexington. It is delightful, and I have about made up my mind to choose farm work as an occupation. That is what I had in mind when I asked you to guess my trade. Do you think you would ever have guessed that?"
"I don't think I ever should, and unless the conditions of farm work have greatly changed since my day I can not imagine how you could manage it in a woman's costume."
Edith regarded me for a moment with an expression of simple surprise, her eyes growing large. Then her glance fell to her dress, and when she again looked up her expression had changed to one which was at once meditative, humorous, and wholly inscrutable. Presently she said:
"Have you not observed, my dear Julian, that the dress of the women you see on the streets is different from that which women wore in the nineteenth century?"
"I have noticed, of course, that they generally wear no skirts, but you and your mother dress as women did in my day."
"And has it not occurred to you to wonder why our dress was not like theirs—why we wear skirts and they do not?"
"Possibly that has occurred to me among the thousand other questions that every day arise in my mind, only to be driven out by a thousand others before I can ask them; but I think in this case I should have rather wondered why these other women did not dress as you do instead of why you did not dress as they do, for your costume, being the one I was accustomed to, naturally struck me as the normal type, and this other style as a variation for some special or local reason which I should later learn about. You must not think me altogether stupid. To tell the truth, these other women have as yet scarcely impressed me as being very real. You were at first the only person about whose reality I felt entirely sure. All the others seemed merely parts of a fantastic farrago of wonders, more or less possible, which is only just beginning to become intelligible and coherent. In time I should doubtless have awakened to the fact that there were other women in the world besides yourself and begun to make inquiries about them."
As I spoke of the absoluteness with which I had depended on her during those first bewildering days for the assurance even of my own identity the quick tears rushed to my companion's eyes, and—well, for a space the other women were more completely forgotten than ever.
Presently she said: "What were we talking about? Oh, yes, I remember—about those other women. I have a confession to make. I have been guilty toward you all this time of a sort of fraud, or at least of a flagrant suppression of the truth, which ought not to be kept up a moment longer. I sincerely hope you will forgive me, in consideration of my motive, and not——"
"Not be too much startled."
"You make me very curious," I said. "What is this mystery? I think I can stand the disclosure."
"Listen, then," she said. "That wonderful night when we saw you first, of course our great thought was to avoid agitating you when you should recover full consciousness by any more evidence of the amazing things that had happened since your day than it was necessary you should see. We knew that in your time the use of long skirts by women was universal, and we reflected that to see mother and me in the modern dress would no doubt strike you very strangely. Now, you see, although skirtless costumes are the general—indeed, almost universal—wear for most occasions, all possible costumes, ancient and modern, of all races, ages, and civilizations, are either provided or to be obtained on the shortest possible notice at the stores. It was therefore very easy for us to furnish ourselves with the old-style dress before father introduced you to us. He said people had in your day such strange ideas of feminine modesty and propriety that it would be the best way to do. Can you forgive us, Julian, for taking such an advantage of your ignorance?"
"Edith," I said, "there were a great many institutions of the nineteenth century which we tolerated because we did not know how to get rid of them, without, however, having a bit better opinion of them than you have, and one of them was the costume by means of which our women used to disguise and cripple themselves."
"I am delighted!" exclaimed Edith. "I perfectly detest these horrible bags, and will not wear them a moment longer!" And bidding me wait where I was, she ran into the house.
Five minutes, perhaps, I waited there in the arbor, where we had been sitting, and then, at a light step on the grass, looked up to see Edith with eyes of smiling challenge standing before me in modern dress. I have seen her in a hundred varieties of that costume since then, and have grown familiar with the exhaustless diversity of its adaptations, but I defy the imagination of the greatest artist to devise a scheme of color and fabric that would again produce upon me the effect of enchanting surprise which I received from that quite simple and hasty toilet.
I don't know how long I stood looking at her without a thought of words, my eyes meanwhile no doubt testifying eloquently enough how adorable I found her. She seemed, however, to divine more than that in my expression, for presently she exclaimed:
"I would give anything to know what you are thinking down in the bottom of your mind! It must be something awfully funny. What are you turning so red for?"
"I am blushing for myself," I said, and that is all I would tell her, much as she teased me. Now, at this distance of time I may tell the truth. My first sentiment, apart from overwhelming admiration, had been a slight astonishment at her absolute ease and composure of bearing under my gaze. This is a confession that may well seem incomprehensible to twentieth-century readers, and God forbid that they should ever catch the point of view which would enable them to understand it better! A woman of my day, unless professionally accustomed to use this sort of costume, would have seemed embarrassed and ill at ease, at least for a time, under a gaze so intent as mine, even though it were a brother's or a father's. I, it seems, had been prepared for at least some slight appearance of discomposure on Edith's part, and was consciously surprised at a manner which simply expressed an ingenuous gratification at my admiration. I refer to this momentary experience because it has always seemed to me to illustrate in a particularly vivid way the change that has taken place not only in the customs but in the mental attitude of the sexes as to each other since my former life. In justice to myself I must hasten to add that this first feeling of surprise vanished even as it arose, in a moment, between two heart-beats. I caught from her clear, serene eyes the view point of the modern man as to woman, never again to lose it. Then it was that I flushed red with shame for myself. Wild horses could not have dragged from me the secret of that blush at the time, though I have told her long ago.
"I was thinking," I said, and I was thinking so, too, "that we ought to be greatly obliged to twentieth-century women for revealing for the first time the artistic possibilities of the masculine dress."
"The masculine dress," she repeated, as if not quite comprehending my meaning. "Do you mean my dress?"
"Why, yes; it is a man's dress I suppose, is it not?"
"Why any more than a woman's?" she answered rather blankly. "Ah, yes, I actually forgot for a moment whom I was talking to. I see; so it was considered a man's dress in your day, when the women masqueraded as mermaids. You may think me stupid not to catch your idea more quickly, but I told you I was dull at history. It is now two full generations since women as well as men have worn this dress, and the idea of associating it with men more than women would occur to no one but a professor of history. It strikes us merely as the only natural and convenient solution of the dress necessity, which is essentially the same for both sexes, since their bodily conformation is on the same general lines."
A STRING OF SURPRISES.
The extremely delicate tints of Edith's costume led me to remark that the color effects of the modern dress seemed to be in general very light as compared with those which prevailed in my day.
"The result," I said, "is extremely pleasing, but if you will excuse a rather prosaic suggestion, it occurs to me that with the whole nation given over to wearing these delicate schemes of color, the accounts for washing must be pretty large. I should suppose they would swamp the national treasury if laundry bills are anything like what they used to be."
This remark, which I thought a very sensible one, set Edith to laughing. "Doubtless we could not do much else if we washed our clothes," she said; "but you see we do not wash them."
"Not wash them!—why not?"
"Because we don't think it nice to wear clothes again after they have been so much soiled as to need washing."
"Well, I won't say that I am surprised," I replied; "in fact, I think I am no longer capable of being surprised at anything; but perhaps you will kindly tell me what you do with a dress when it becomes soiled."
"We throw it away—that is, it goes back to the mills to be made into something else."
"Indeed! To my nineteenth-century intellect, throwing away clothing would seem even more expensive than washing it."
"Oh, no, much less so. What do you suppose, now, this costume of mine cost?"
"I don't know, I am sure. I never had a wife to pay dressmaker's bills for, but I should say certainly it cost a great deal of money."
"Such costumes cost from ten to twenty cents," said Edith. "What do you suppose it is made of?"
I took the edge of her mantle between my fingers.
"I thought it was silk or fine linen," I replied, "but I see it is not. Doubtless it is some new fiber."
"We have discovered many new fibers, but it is rather a question of process than material that I had in mind. This is not a textile fabric at all, but paper. That is the most common material for garments nowadays."
"But—but," I exclaimed, "what if it should come on to rain on these paper clothes? Would they not melt, and at a little strain would they not part?"
"A costume such as this," said Edith, "is not meant for stormy weather, and yet it would by no means melt in a rainstorm, however severe. For storm-garments we have a paper that is absolutely impervious to moisture on the outer surface. As to toughness, I think you would find it as hard to tear this paper as any ordinary cloth. The fabric is so strengthened with fiber as to hold together very stoutly."
"But in winter, at least, when you need warmth, you must have to fall back on our old friend the sheep."
"You mean garments made of sheep's hair? Oh, no, there is no modern use for them. Porous paper makes a garment quite as warm as woolen could, and vastly lighter than the clothes you had. Nothing but eider down could have been at once so warm and light as our winter coats of paper."
"And cotton!—linen! Don't tell me that they have been given up, like wool?"
"Oh, no; we weave fabrics of these and other vegetable products, and they are nearly as cheap as paper, but paper is so much lighter and more easily fashioned into all shapes that it is generally preferred for garments. But, at any rate, we should consider no material fit for garments which could not be thrown away after being soiled. The idea of washing and cleaning articles of bodily use and using them over and over again would be quite intolerable. For this reason, while we want beautiful garments, we distinctly do not want durable ones. In your day, it seems, even worse than the practice of washing garments to be used again you were in the habit of keeping your outer garments without washing at all, not only day after day, but week after week, year after year, sometimes whole lifetimes, when they were specially valuable, and finally, perhaps, giving them away to others. It seems that women sometimes kept their wedding dresses long enough for their daughters to wear at their weddings. That would seem shocking to us, and yet, even your fine ladies did such things. As for what the poor had to do in the way of keeping and wearing their old clothes till they went to rags, that is something which won't bear thinking of."
"It is rather startling," I said, "to find the problem of clean clothing solved by the abolition of the wash tub, although I perceive that that was the only radical solution. 'Warranted to wear and wash' used to be the advertisement of our clothing merchants, but now it seems, if you would sell clothing, you must warrant the goods neither to wear nor to wash."
"As for wearing," said Edith, "our clothing never gets the chance to show how it would wear before we throw it away, any more than the other fabrics, such as carpets, bedding, and hangings that we use about our houses."
"You don't mean that they are paper-made also!" I exclaimed.
"Not always made of paper, but always of some fabric so cheap that they can be rejected after the briefest period of using. When you would have swept a carpet we put in a new one. Where you would wash or air bedding we renew it, and so with all the hangings about our houses so far as we use them at all. We upholster with air or water instead of feathers. It is more than I can understand how you ever endured your musty, fusty, dusty rooms with the filth and disease germs of whole generations stored in the woolen and hair fabrics that furnished them. When we clean out a room we turn the hose on ceiling, walls, and floor. There is nothing to harm—nothing but tiled or other hard-finished surfaces. Our hygienists say that the change in customs in these matters relating to the purity of our clothing and dwellings, has done more than all our other improvements to eradicate the germs of contagious and other diseases and relegate epidemics to ancient history.
"Talking of paper," said Edith, extending a very trim foot by way of attracting attention to its gear, "what do you think of our modern shoes?"
"Do you mean that they also are made of paper?" I exclaimed.
"I noticed the shoes your father gave me were very light as compared with anything I had ever worn before. Really that is a great idea, for lightness in foot wear is the first necessity. Scamp shoemakers used to put paper soles in shoes in my day. It is evident that instead of prosecuting them for rascals we should have revered them as unconscious prophets. But, for that matter, how do you prepare soles of paper that will last?"
"There are plenty of solutions which will make paper as hard as iron."
"And do not these shoes leak in winter?"
"We have different kinds for different weathers. All are seamless, and the wet-weather sort are coated outside with a lacquer impervious to moisture."
"That means, I suppose, that rubbers too as articles of wear have been sent to the museum?"
"We use rubber, but not for wear. Our waterproof paper is much lighter and better every way."
"After all this it is easy to believe that your hats and caps are also paper-made."
"And so they are to a great extent," said Edith; "the heavy headgear that made your men bald ours would not endure. We want as little as possible on our heads, and that as light as may be."
"Go on!" I exclaimed. "I suppose I am next to be told that the delicious but mysterious articles of food which come by the pneumatic carrier from the restaurant or are served there are likewise made out of paper. Proceed—I am prepared to believe it!"
"Not quite so bad as that," laughed my companion, "but really the next thing to it, for the dishes you eat them from are made of paper. The crash of crockery and glass, which seems to have been a sort of running accompaniment to housekeeping in your day, is no more heard in the land. Our dishes and kettles for eating or cooking, when they need cleaning are thrown away, or rather, as in the case of all these rejected materials I have spoken of, sent back to the factories to be reduced again to pulp and made over into other forms."
"But you certainly do not use paper kettles? Fire will still burn, I fancy, although you seem to have changed most of the other rules we went by."
"Fire will still burn, indeed, but the electrical heat has been adopted for cooking as well as for all other purposes. We no longer heat our vessels from without but from within, and the consequence is that we do our cooking in paper vessels on wooden stoves, even as the savages used to do it in birch-bark vessels with hot stones, for, so the philosophers say, history repeats itself in an ever-ascending spiral."
And now Edith began to laugh at my perplexed expression. She declared that it was clear my credulity had been taxed with these accounts of modern novelties about as far as it would be prudent to try it without furnishing some further evidence of the truth of the statements she had made. She proposed accordingly, for the balance of the morning, a visit to some of the great paper-process factories.
THE GREATEST WONDER YET—FASHION DETHRONED.
"You surely can not form the slightest idea of the bodily ecstasy it gives me to have done with that horrible masquerade in mummy clothes," exclaimed my companion as we left the house. "To think this is the first time we have actually been walking together!"
"Surely you forget," I replied; "we have been out together several times."
"Out together, yes, but not walking," she answered; "at least I was not walking. I don't know what would be the proper zoological term to describe the way I got over the ground inside of those bags, but it certainly was not walking. The women of your day, you see, were trained from childhood in that mode of progression, and no doubt acquired some skill in it; but I never had skirts on in my life except once, in some theatricals. It was the hardest thing I ever tried, and I doubt if I ever again give you so strong a proof of my regard. I am astonished that you did not seem to notice what a distressful time I was having."
But if, being accustomed, as I had been, to the gait of women hampered by draperies, I had not observed anything unusual in Edith's walk when we had been out on previous occasions, the buoyant grace of her carriage and the elastic vigor of her step as she strode now by my side was a revelation of the possibilities of an athletic companionship which was not a little intoxicating.
To describe in detail what I saw in my tour that day through the paper-process factories would be to tell an old story to twentieth-century readers; but what far more impressed me than all the ingenuity and variety of mechanical adaptations was the workers themselves and the conditions of their labor. I need not tell my readers what the great mills are in these days—lofty, airy halls, walled with beautiful designs in tiles and metal, furnished like palaces, with every convenience, the machinery running almost noiselessly, and every incident of the work that might be offensive to any sense reduced by ingenious devices to the minimum. Neither need I describe to you the princely workers in these palaces of industry, the strong and splendid men and women, with their refined and cultured faces, prosecuting with the enthusiasm of artists their self-chosen tasks of combining use and beauty. You all know what your factories are to-day; no doubt you find them none too pleasant or convenient, having been used to such things all your lives. No doubt you even criticise them in various ways as falling short of what they might be, for such is human nature; but if you would understand how they seem to me, shut your eyes a moment and try to conceive in fancy what our cotton and woolen and paper mills were like a hundred years ago.
Picture low rooms roofed with rough and grimy timbers and walled with bare or whitewashed brick. Imagine the floor so crammed with machinery for economy of space as to allow bare room for the workers to writhe about among the flying arms and jaws of steel, a false motion meaning death or mutilation. Imagine the air space above filled, instead of air, with a mixture of stenches of oil and filth, unwashed human bodies, and foul clothing. Conceive a perpetual clang and clash of machinery like the screech of a tornado.
But these were only the material conditions of the scene. Shut your eyes once more, that you may see what I would fain forget I had ever seen—the interminable rows of women, pallid, hollow-cheeked, with faces vacant and stolid but for the accent of misery, their clothing tattered, faded, and foul; and not women only, but multitudes of little children, weazen-faced and ragged—children whose mother's milk was barely out of their blood, their bones yet in the gristle.
* * * * *
Edith introduced me to the superintendent of one of the factories, a handsome woman of perhaps forty years. She very kindly showed us about and explained matters to me, and was much interested in turn to know what I thought of the modern factories and their points of contrast with those of former days. Naturally, I told her that I had been impressed, far more than by anything in the new mechanical appliances, with the transformation in the condition of the workers themselves.
"Ah, yes," she said, "of course you would say so; that must indeed be the great contrast, though the present ways seem so entirely a matter of course to us that we forget it was not always so. When the workers settle how the work shall be done, it is not wonderful that the conditions should be the pleasantest possible. On the other hand, when, as in your day, a class like your private capitalists, who did not share the work, nevertheless settled how it should be done it is not surprising that the conditions of industry should have been as barbarous as they were, especially when the operation of the competitive system compelled the capitalists to get the most work possible out of the workers on the cheapest terms."
"Do I understand." I asked, "that the workers in each trade regulate for themselves the conditions of their particular occupation?"
"By no means. The unitary character of our industrial administration is the vital idea of it, without which it would instantly become impracticable. If the members of each trade controlled its conditions, they would presently be tempted to conduct it selfishly and adversely to the general interest of the community, seeking, as your private capitalists did, to get as much and give as little as possible. And not only would every distinctive class of workers be tempted to act in this manner, but every subdivision of workers in the same trade would presently be pursuing the same policy, until the whole industrial system would become disintegrated, and we should have to call the capitalists from their graves to save us. When I said that the workers regulated the conditions of work, I meant the workers as a whole—that is, the people at large, all of whom are nowadays workers, you know. The regulation and mutual adjustment of the conditions of the several branches of the industrial system are wholly done by the General Government. At the same time, however, the regulation of the conditions of work in any occupation is effectively, though indirectly, controlled by the workers in it through the right we all have to choose and change our occupations. Nobody would choose an occupation the conditions of which were not satisfactory, so they have to be made and kept satisfactory."
* * * * *
While we were at the factory the noon hour came, and I asked the superintendent and Edith to go out to lunch with me. In fact, I wanted to ascertain whether my newly acquired credit card was really good for anything or not.
"There is one point about your modern costumes," I said, as we sat at our table in the dining hall, "about which I am rather curious. Will you tell me who or what sets the fashions?"
"The Creator sets the only fashion which is now generally followed," Edith answered.
"And what is that?"
"The fashion of our bodies," she answered.
"Ah, yes, very good," I replied, "and very true, too, of your costumes, as it certainly was not of ours; but my question still remains. Allowing that you have a general theory of dress, there are a thousand differences in details, with possible variations of style, shape, color, material, and what not. Now, the making of garments is carried on, I suppose, like all your other industries, as public business, under collective management, is it not?"
"Certainly. People, of course, can make their own clothes if they wish to, just as they can make anything else, but it would be a great waste of time and energy."
"Very well. The garments turned out by the factories have to be made up on some particular design or designs. In my day the question of designs of garments was settled by society leaders, fashion journals, edicts from Paris, or the Lord knows how; but at any rate the question was settled for us, and we had nothing to do but to obey. I don't say it was a good way; on the contrary, it was detestable; but what I want to know is, What system have you instead, for I suppose you have now no society leaders, fashion journals, or Paris edicts? Who settles the question what you shall wear?"
"We do," replied the superintendent.
"You mean, I suppose, that you determine it collectively by democratic methods. Now, when I look around me in this dining hall and see the variety and beauty of the costumes, I am bound to say that the result of your system seems satisfactory, and yet I think it would strike even the strongest believer in the principle of democracy that the rule of the majority ought scarcely to extend to dress. I admit that the yoke of fashion which we bowed to was very onerous, and yet it was true that if we were brave enough, as few indeed were, we might defy it; but with the style of dress determined by the administration, and only certain styles made, you must either follow the taste of the majority or lie abed. Why do you laugh? Is it not so?"
"We were smiling," replied the superintendent, "on account of a slight misapprehension on your part. When I said that we regulated questions of dress, I meant that we regulated them not collectively, by majority, but individually, each for himself or herself."
"But I don't see how you can," I persisted. "The business of producing fabrics and of making them into garments is carried on by the Government. Does not that imply, practically, a governmental control or initiative in fashions of dress?"
"Dear me, no!" exclaimed the superintendent. "It is evident, Mr. West, as indeed the histories say, that governmental action carried with it in your day an arbitrary implication which it does not now. The Government is actually now what it nominally was in the America of your day—the servant, tool, and instrument by which the people give effect to their will, itself being without will. The popular will is expressed in two ways, which are quite distinct and relate to different provinces: First, collectively, by majority, in regard to blended, mutually involved interests, such as the large economic and political concerns of the community; second, personally, by each individual for himself or herself in the furtherance of private and self-regarding matters. The Government is not more absolutely the servant of the collective will in regard to the blended interests of the community than it is of the individual convenience in personal matters. It is at once the august representative of all in general concerns, and everybody's agent, errand boy, and factotum for all private ends. Nothing is too high or too low, too great or too little, for it to do for us.
"The dressmaking department holds its vast provision of fabrics and machinery at the absolute disposition of the whims of every man or woman in the nation. You can go to one of the stores and order any costume of which a historical description exists, from the days of Eve to yesterday, or you can furnish a design of your own invention for a brand-new costume, designating any material at present existing, and it will be sent home to you in less time than any nineteenth-century dressmaker ever even promised to fill an order. Really, talking of this, I want you to see our garment-making machines in operation. Our paper garments, of course, are seamless, and made wholly by machinery. The apparatus being adjustable to any measure, you can have a costume turned out for you complete while you are looking over the machine. There are, of course, some general styles and shapes that are usually popular, and the stores keep a supply of them on hand, but that is for the convenience of the people, not of the department, which holds itself always ready to follow the initiative of any citizen and provide anything ordered in the least possible time."
"Then anybody can set the fashion?" I said.
"Anybody can set it, but whether it is followed depends on whether it is a good one, and really has some new point in respect of convenience or beauty; otherwise it certainly will not become a fashion. Its vogue will be precisely proportioned to the merit the popular taste recognizes in it, just as if it were an invention in mechanics. If a new idea in dress has any merit in it, it is taken up with great promptness, for our people are extremely interested in enhancing personal beauty by costume, and the absence of any arbitrary standards of style such as fashion set for you leaves us on the alert for attractions and novelties in shape and color. It is in variety of effect that our mode of dressing seems indeed to differ most from yours. Your styles were constantly being varied by the edicts of fashion, but as only one style was tolerated at a time, you had only a successive and not a simultaneous variety, such as we have. I should imagine that this uniformity of style, extending, as I understand it often did, to fabric, color, and shape alike, must have caused your great assemblages to present a depressing effect of sameness.
"That was a fact fully admitted in my day," I replied. "The artists were the enemies of fashion, as indeed all sensible people were, but resistance was in vain. Do you know, if I were to return to the nineteenth century, there is perhaps nothing else I could tell my contemporaries of the changes you have made that would so deeply impress them as the information that you had broken the scepter of fashion, that there were no longer any arbitrary standards in dress recognized, and that no style had any other vogue that might be given it by individual recognition of its merits. That most of the other yokes humanity wore might some day be broken, the more hopeful of us believed, but the yoke of fashion we never expected to be freed from, unless perhaps in heaven."
"The reign of fashion, as the history books call it, always seemed to me one of the most utterly incomprehensible things about the old order," said Edith. "It would seem that it must have had some great force behind it to compel such abject submission to a rule so tyrannical. And yet there seems to have been no force at all used. Do tell us what the secret was, Julian?"
"Don't ask me," I protested. "It seemed to be some fell enchantment that we were subject to—that is all I know. Nobody professed to understand why we did as we did. Can't you tell us," I added, turning to the superintendent—"how do you moderns diagnose the fashion mania that made our lives such a burden to us?"
"Since you appeal to me," replied our companion, "I may say that the historians explain the dominion of fashion in your age as the natural result of a disparity of economic conditions prevailing in a community in which rigid distinctions of caste had ceased to exist. It resulted from two factors: the desire of the common herd to imitate the superior class, and the desire of the superior class to protect themselves from that imitation and preserve distinction of appearance. In times and countries where class was caste, and fixed by law or iron custom, each caste had its distinctive dress, to imitate which was not allowed to another class. Consequently fashions were stationary. With the rise of democracy, the legal protection of class distinctions was abolished, while the actual disparity in social ranks still existed, owing to the persistence of economic inequalities. It was now free for all to imitate the superior class, and thus seem at least to be as good as it, and no kind of imitation was so natural and easy as dress. First, the socially ambitious led off in this imitation; then presently the less pretentious were constrained to follow their example, to avoid an apparent confession of social inferiority; till, finally, even the philosophers had to follow the herd and conform to the fashion, to avoid being conspicuous by an exceptional appearance."
"I can see," said Edith, "how social emulation should make the masses imitate the richer and superior class, and how the fashions should in this way be set; but why were they changed so often, when it must have been so terribly expensive and troublesome to make the changes?"
"For the reason," answered the superintendent, "that the only way the superior class could escape their imitators and preserve their distinction in dress was by adopting constantly new fashions, only to drop them for still newer ones as soon as they were imitated.—Does it seem to you, Mr. West, that this explanation corresponds with the facts as you observed them?"
"Entirely so," I replied. "It might be added, too, that the changes in fashions were greatly fomented and assisted by the self-interest of vast industrial and commercial interests engaged in purveying the materials of dress and personal belongings. Every change, by creating a demand for new materials and rendering those in use obsolete, was what we called good for trade, though if tradesmen were unlucky enough to be caught by a sudden change of fashion with a lot of goods on hand it meant ruin to them. Great losses of this sort, indeed, attended every change in fashion."
"But we read that there were fashions in many things besides dress," said Edith.
"Certainly," said the superintendent. "Dress was the stronghold and main province of fashion because imitation was easiest and most effective through dress, but in nearly everything that pertained to the habits of living, eating, drinking, recreation, to houses, furniture, horses and carriages, and servants, to the manner of bowing even, and shaking hands, to the mode of eating food and taking tea, and I don't know what else—there were fashions which must be followed, and were changed as soon as they were followed. It was indeed a sad, fantastic race, and, Mr. West's contemporaries appear to have fully realized it; but as long as society was made up of unequals with no caste barriers to prevent imitation, the inferiors were bound to ape the superiors, and the superiors were bound to baffle imitation, so far as possible, by seeking ever-fresh devices for expressing their superiority."
"In short," I said, "our tedious sameness in dress and manners appears to you to have been the logical result of our lack of equality in conditions."
"Precisely so," answered the superintendent. "Because you were not equal, you made yourself miserable and ugly in the attempt to seem so. The aesthetic equivalent of the moral wrong of inequality was the artistic abomination of uniformity. On the other hand, equality creates an atmosphere which kills imitation, and is pregnant with originality, for every one acts out himself, having nothing to gain by imitating any one else."
SOMETHING THAT HAD NOT CHANGED.
When we parted with the superintendent of the paper-process factory I said to Edith that I had taken in since that morning about all the new impressions and new philosophies I could for the time mentally digest, and felt great need of resting my mind for a space in the contemplation of something—if indeed there were anything—which had not changed or been improved in the last century.
After a moment's consideration Edith exclaimed: "I have it! Ask no questions, but just come with me."
Presently, as we were making our way along the route she had taken, she touched my arm, saying, "Let us hurry a little."
Now, hurrying was the regulation gait of the nineteenth century. "Hurry up!" was about the most threadbare phrase in the English language, and rather than "E pluribus unum" should especially have been the motto of the American people, but it was the first time the note of haste had impressed my consciousness since I had been living twentieth-century days. This fact, together with the touch of my companion upon my arm as she sought to quicken my pace, caused me to look around, and in so doing to pause abruptly.
"What is this?" I exclaimed.
"It is too bad!" said my companion. "I tried to get you past without seeing it."
But indeed, though I had asked what was this building we stood in presence of, nobody could know so well as I what it was. The mystery was how it had come to be there for in the midst of this splendid city of equals, where poverty was an unknown word, I found myself face to face with a typical nineteenth-century tenement house of the worst sort—one of the rookeries, in fact, that used to abound in the North End and other parts of the city. The environment was indeed in strong enough contrast with that of such buildings in my time, shut in as they generally were by a labyrinth of noisome alleys and dark, damp courtyards which were reeking reservoirs of foetid odors, kept in by lofty, light-excluding walls. This building stood by itself, in the midst of an open square, as if it had been a palace or other show place. But all the more, indeed, by this fine setting was the dismal squalor of the grimy structure emphasized. It seemed to exhale an atmosphere of gloom and chill which all the bright sunshine of the breezy September afternoon was unable to dominate. One would not have been surprised, even at noonday, to see ghosts at the black windows. There was an inscription over the door, and I went across the square to read it, Edith reluctantly following me. These words I read, above the central doorway:
"THIS HABITATION OF CRUELTY IS PRESERVED AS A MEMENTO TO COMING GENERATIONS OF THE RULE OF THE RICH."
"This is one of the ghost buildings," said Edith, "kept to scare the people with, so that they may never risk anything that looks like bringing back the old order of things by allowing any one on any plea to obtain an economic advantage over another. I think they had much better be torn down, for there is no more danger of the world's going back to the old order than there is of the globe reversing its rotation."
A band of children, accompanied by a young woman, came across the square as we stood before the building, and filed into the doorway and up the black and narrow stairway. The faces of the little ones were very serious, and they spoke in whispers.
"They are school children." said Edith. "We are all taken through this building, or some other like it, when we are in the schools, and the teacher explains what manner of things used to be done and endured there. I remember well when I was taken through this building as a child. It was long afterward before I quite recovered from the terrible impression I received. Really, I don't think it is a good idea to bring young children here, but it is a custom that became settled in the period after the Revolution, when the horror of the bondage they had escaped from was yet fresh in the minds of the people, and their great fear was that by some lack of vigilance the rule of the rich might be restored.
"Of course," she continued, "this building and the others like it, which were reserved for warnings when the rest were razed to the ground, have been thoroughly cleaned and strengthened and made sanitary and safe every way, but our artists have very cunningly counterfeited all the old effects of filth and squalor, so that the appearance of everything is just as it was. Tablets in the rooms describe how many human beings used to be crowded into them, and the horrible conditions of their lives. The worst about it is that the facts are all taken from historical records, and are absolutely true. There are some of these places in which the inhabitants of the buildings as they used to swarm in them are reproduced in wax or plaster with every detail of garments, furniture, and all the other features based on actual records or pictures of the time. There is something indescribably dreadful in going through the buildings fitted out in that way. The dumb figures seem to appeal to you to help them. It was so long ago, and yet it makes one feel conscience-stricken not to be able to do anything."
"But, Julian, come away. It was just a stupid accident my bringing you past here. When I undertook to show you something that had not changed since your day, I did not mean to mock you."
Thanks to modern rapid transit, ten minutes later we stood on the ocean shore, with the waves of the Atlantic breaking noisily at our feet and its blue floor extending unbroken to the horizon. Here indeed was something that had not been changed—a mighty existence, to which a thousand years were as one day and one day as a thousand years. There could be no tonic for my case like the inspiration of this great presence, this unchanging witness of all earth's mutations. How petty seemed the little trick of time that had been played on me as I stood in the presence of this symbol of everlastingness which made past, present, and future terms of little meaning!
In accompanying Edith to the part of the beach where we stood I had taken no note of directions, but now, as I began to study the shore, I observed with lively emotion that she had unwittingly brought me to the site of my old seaside place at Nahant. The buildings were indeed gone, and the growth of trees had quite changed the aspect of the landscape, but the shore line remained unaltered, and I knew it at once. Bidding her follow me, I led the way around a point to a little strip of beach between the sea and a wall of rock which shut off all sight or sound of the land behind. In my former life the spot had been a favorite resort when I visited the shore. Here in that life so long ago, and yet recalled as if of yesterday, I had been used from a lad to go to do my day dreaming. Every feature of the little nook was as familiar to me as my bedroom and all was quite unchanged. The sea in front, the sky above, the islands and the blue headlands of the distant coast—all, indeed, that filled the view was the same in every detail. I threw myself upon the warm sand by the margin of the sea, as I had been wont to do, and in a moment the flood of familiar associations had so completely carried me back to my old life that all the marvels that had happened to me, when presently I began to recall them, seemed merely as a day dream that had come to me like so many others before it in that spot by the shore. But what a dream it had been, that vision of the world to be; surely of all the dreams that had come to me there by the sea the weirdest!
There had been a girl in the dream, a maiden much to be desired. It had been ill if I had lost her; but I had not, for this was she, the girl in this strange and graceful garb, standing by my side and smiling down at me. I had by some great hap brought her back from dreamland, holding her by the very strength of my love when all else of the vision had dissolved at the opening of the eyes.
Why not? What youth has not often been visited in his dreams by maidenly ideals fairer than walk on earth, whom, waking, he has sighed for and for days been followed by the haunting beauty of their half-remembered faces? I, more fortunate than they, had baffled the jealous warder at the gates of sleep and brought my queen of dreamland through.
When I proceeded to state to Edith this theory to account for her presence, she professed to find it highly reasonable, and we proceeded at much length to develop the idea. Falling into the conceit that she was an anticipation of the twentieth-century woman instead of my being an excavated relic of the nineteenth-century man, we speculated what we should do for the summer. We decided to visit the great pleasure resorts, where, no doubt, she would under the circumstances excite much curiosity and at the same time have an opportunity of studying what to her twentieth-century mind would seem even more astonishing types of humanity than she would seem to them—namely, people who, surrounded by a needy and anguished world, could get their own consent to be happy in a frivolous and wasteful idleness. Afterward we would go to Europe and inspect such things there as might naturally be curiosities to a girl out of the year 2000, such as a Rothschild, an emperor, and a few specimens of human beings, some of which were at that time still extant in Germany, Austria, and Russia, who honestly believed that God had given to certain fellow-beings a divine title to reign over them.
A MIDNIGHT PLUNGE.
It was after dark when we reached home, and several hours later before we had made an end of telling our adventures. Indeed, my hosts seemed at all times unable to hear too much of my impressions of modern things, appearing to be as much interested in what I thought of them as I was in the things themselves.
"It is really, you see," Edith's mother had said, "the manifestation of vanity on our part. You are a sort of looking-glass to us, in which we can see how we appear from a different point of view from our own. If it were not for you, we should never have realized what remarkable people we are, for to one another, I assure you, we seem very ordinary."
To which I replied that in talking with them I got the same looking-glass effect as to myself and my contemporaries, but that it was one which by no means ministered to my vanity.
When, as we talked, the globe of the color clock turning white announced that it was midnight, some one spoke of bed, but the doctor had another scheme.
"I propose," said he, "by way of preparing a good night's rest for us all, that we go over to the natatorium and take a plunge."
"Are there any public baths open so late as this?" I said. "In my day everything was shut up long before now."
Then and there the doctor gave me the information which, matter of course as it is to twentieth-century readers, was surprising enough to me, that no public service or convenience is ever suspended at the present day, whether by day or night, the year round; and that, although the service provided varies in extent, according to the demand, it never varies in quality.
"It seems to us," said the doctor, "that among the minor inconveniences of life in your day none could have been more vexing than the recurrent interruption of all, or of the larger part of all, public services every night. Most of the people, of course, are asleep then, but always a portion of them have occasion to be awake and about, and all of us sometimes, and we should consider it a very lame public service that did not provide for the night workers as good a service as for the day workers. Of course, you could not do it, lacking any unitary industrial organization, but it is very easy with us. We have day and night shifts for all the public services—the latter, of course, much the smaller."
"How about public holidays; have you abandoned them?"
"Pretty generally. The occasional public holidays in your time were prized by the people, as giving them much-needed breathing spaces. Nowadays, when the working day is so short and the working year so interspersed with ample vacations, the old-fashioned holiday has ceased to serve any purpose, and would be regarded as a nuisance. We prefer to choose and use our leisure time as we please."
It was to the Leander Natatorium that we had directed our steps. As I need not remind Bostonians, this is one of the older baths, and considered quite inferior to the modern structures. To me, however, it was a vastly impressive spectacle. The lofty interior glowing with light, the immense swimming tank, the four great fountains filling the air with diamond-dazzle and the noise of falling water, together with the throng of gayly dressed and laughing bathers, made an exhilarating and magnificent scene, which was a very effective introduction to the athletic side of the modern life. The loveliest thing of all was the great expanse of water made translucent by the light reflected from the white tiled bottom, so that the swimmers, their whole bodies visible, seemed as if floating on a pale emerald cloud, with an effect of buoyancy and weightlessness that was as startling as charming. Edith was quick to tell me, however, that this was as nothing to the beauty of some of the new and larger baths, where, by varying the colors of the tiling at the bottom, the water is made to shade through all the tints of the rainbow while preserving the same translucent appearance.
I had formed an impression that the water would be fresh, but the green hue, of course, showed it to be from the sea.
"We have a poor opinion of fresh water for swimming when we can get salt," said the doctor. "This water came in on the last tide from the Atlantic."
"But how do you get it up to this level?"
"We make it carry itself up," laughed the doctor; "it would be a pity if the tidal force that raises the whole harbor fully seven feet, could not raise what little we want a bit higher. Don't look at it so suspiciously," he added. "I know that Boston Harbor water was far from being clean enough for bathing in your day, but all that is changed. Your sewerage systems, remember, are forgotten abominations, and nothing that can defile is allowed to reach sea or river nowadays. For that reason we can and do use sea water, not only for all the public baths, but provide it as a distinct service for our home baths and also for all the public fountains, which, thus inexhaustibly supplied, can be kept always playing. But let us go in."
"Certainly, if you say so," said I, with a shiver, "but are you sure that it is not a trifle cool? Ocean water was thought by us to be chilly for bathing in late September."
"Did you think we were going to give you your death?" said the doctor. "Of course, the water is warmed to a comfortable temperature; these baths are open all winter."
"But, dear me! how can you possibly warm such great bodies of water, which are so constantly renewed, especially in winter?"
"Oh, we have no conscience at all about what we make the tides do for us," replied the doctor. "We not only make them lift the water up here, but heat it, too. Why, Julian, cold or hot are terms without real meaning, mere coquettish airs which Nature puts on, indicating that she wants to be wooed a little. She would just as soon warm you as freeze you, if you will approach her rightly. The blizzards which used to freeze your generation might just as well have taken the place of your coal mines. You look incredulous, but let me tell you now, as a first step toward the understanding of modern conditions, that power, with all its applications of light, heat, and energy, is to-day practically exhaustless and costless, and scarcely enters as an element into mechanical calculation. The uses of the tides, winds, and waterfalls are indeed but crude methods of drawing on Nature's resources of strength compared with others that are employed by which boundless power is developed from natural inequalities of temperature."
A few moments later I was enjoying the most delicious sea bath that ever up to that time had fallen to my lot; the pleasure of the pelting under the fountains was to me a new sensation in life.
"You'll make a first-rate twentieth-century Bostonian," said the doctor, laughing at my delight. "It is said that a marked feature of our modern civilization is that we are tending to revert to the amphibious type of our remote ancestry; evidently you will not object to drifting with the tide."
It was one o'clock when we reached home.
"I suppose," said Edith, as I bade her good-night, "that in ten minutes you will be back among your friends of the nineteenth century if you dream as you did last night. What would I not give to take the journey with you and see for myself what the world was like!"
"And I would give as much to be spared a repetition of the experience," I said, "unless it were in your company."
"Do you mean that you really are afraid you will dream of the old times again?"
"So much afraid," I replied, "that I have a good mind to sit up all night to avoid the possibility of another such nightmare."
"Dear me! you need not do that," she said. "If you wish me to, I will see that you are troubled no more in that way."
"Are you, then, a magician?"
"If I tell you not to dream of any particular matter, you will not," she said.
"You are easily the mistress of my waking thoughts," I said; "but can you rule my sleeping mind as well?"
"You shall see," she said, and, fixing her eyes upon mine, she said quietly, "Remember, you are not to dream of anything to-night which belonged to your old life!" and, as she spoke, I knew in my mind that it would be as she said.
LIFE THE BASIS OF THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY.
Among the pieces of furniture in the subterranean bedchamber where Dr. Leete had found me sleeping was one of the strong boxes of iron cunningly locked which in my time were used for the storage of money and valuables. The location of this chamber so far underground, its solid stone construction and heavy doors, had not only made it impervious to noise but equally proof against thieves, and its very existence being, moreover, a secret, I had thought that no place could be safer for keeping the evidences of my wealth.
Edith had been very curious about the safe, which was the name we gave to these strong boxes, and several times when we were visiting the vault had expressed a lively desire to see what was inside. I had proposed to open it for her, but she had suggested that, as her father and mother would be as much interested in the process as herself, it would be best to postpone the treat till all should be present.
As we sat at breakfast the day after the experiences narrated in the previous chapters, she asked why that morning would not be a good time to show the inside of the safe, and everybody agreed that there could be no better.
"What is in the safe?" asked Edith's mother.
"When I last locked it in the year 1887," I replied, "there were in it securities and evidences of value of various sorts representing something like a million dollars. When we open it this morning we shall find, thanks to the great Revolution, a fine collection of waste paper.—I wonder, by the way, doctor, just what your judges would say if I were to take those securities to them and make a formal demand to be reinstated in the possessions which they represented? Suppose I said: 'Your Honors, these properties were once mine and I have never voluntarily parted with them. Why are they not mine now, and why should they not be returned to me?' You understand, of course, that I have no desire to start a revolt against the present order, which I am very ready to admit is much better than the old arrangements, but I am quite curious to know just what the judges would reply to such a demand, provided they consented to entertain it seriously. I suppose they would laugh me out of court. Still, I think I might argue with some plausibility that, seeing I was not present when the Revolution divested us capitalists of our wealth, I am at least entitled to a courteous explanation of the grounds on which that course was justified at the time. I do not want my million back, even if it were possible to return it, but as a matter of rational satisfaction I should like to know on just what plea it was appropriated and is retained by the community."
"Really Julian," said the doctor, "it would be an excellent idea if you were to do just what you have suggested—that is, bring a formal suit against the nation for reinstatement in your former property. It would arouse the liveliest popular interest and stimulate a discussion of the ethical basis of our economic equality that would be of great educational value to the community. You see the present order has been so long established that it does not often occur to anybody except historians that there ever was any other. It would be a good thing for the people to have their minds stirred up on the subject and be compelled to do some fundamental thinking as to the merits of the differences between the old and the new order and the reasons for the present system. Confronting the court with those securities in your hand, you would make a fine dramatic situation. It would be the nineteenth century challenging the twentieth, the old civilization, demanding an accounting of the new. The judges, you may be sure, would treat you with the greatest consideration. They would at once admit your rights under the peculiar circumstances to have the whole question of wealth distribution and the rights of property reopened from the beginning, and be ready to discuss it in the broadest spirit."
"No doubt," I answered, "but it is just an illustration, I suppose, of the lack of unselfish public spirit among my contemporaries that I do not feel disposed to make myself a spectacle even in the cause of education. Besides, what is the need? You can tell me as well as the judges could what the answer would be, and as it is the answer I want and not the property that will do just as well."
"No doubt," said the doctor, "I could give you the general line of reasoning they would follow."
"Very well. Let us suppose, then, that you are the court. On what ground would you refuse to return me my million, for I assume that you would refuse?"
"Of course it would be the same ground," replied the doctor, "that the nation proceeded upon in nationalizing the property which that same million represented at the time of the great Revolution."
"I suppose so; that is what I want to get at. What is that ground?"
"The court would say that to allow any person to withdraw or withhold from the public administration for the common use any larger portion of capital than the equal portion allotted to all for personal use and consumption would in so far impair the ability of society to perform its first duty to its members."
"What is this first duty of society to its members, which would be interfered with by allowing particular citizens to appropriate more than an equal proportion of the capital of the country?"
"The duty of safeguarding the first and highest right of its members—the right of life."
"But how is the duty of society to safeguard the lives of its members interfered with when one person, has more capital than another?"
"Simply," answered the doctor, "because people have to eat in order to live, also to be clothed and to consume a mass of necessary and desirable things, the sum of which constitutes what we call wealth or capital. Now, if the supply of these things was always unlimited, as is the air we need to breathe, it would not be necessary to see that each one had his share, but the supply of wealth being, in fact, at any one time limited, it follows that if some have a disproportionate share, the rest will not have enough and may be left with nothing, as was indeed the case of millions all over the world until the great Revolution established economic equality. If, then, the first right of the citizen is protection to life and the first duty of society is to furnish it, the state must evidently see to it that the means of life are not unduly appropriated by particular individuals, but are distributed so as to meet the needs of all. Moreover, in order to secure the means of life to all, it is not merely necessary that the state should see that the wealth available for consumption is properly distributed at any given time; for, although all might in that case fare well for to-day, tomorrow all might starve unless, meanwhile, new wealth were being produced. The duty of society to guarantee the life of the citizen implies, therefore, not merely the equal distribution of wealth for consumption, but its employment as capital to the best possible advantage for all in the production of more wealth. In both ways, therefore, you will readily see that society would fail in its first and greatest function in proportion as it were to permit individuals beyond the equal allotment to withdraw wealth, whether for consumption or employment as capital, from the public administration in the common interest."
"The modern ethics of ownership is rather startlingly simple to a representative of the nineteenth century," I observed. "Would not the judges even ask me by what right or title of ownership I claimed my wealth?"
"Certainly not. It is impossible that you or any one could have so strong a title to material things as the least of your fellow-citizens have to their lives, or could make so strong a plea for the use of the collective power to enforce your right to things as they could make that the collective power should enforce their right to life against your right to things at whatever point the two claims might directly or indirectly conflict. The effect of the disproportionate possession of the wealth of a community by some of its members to curtail and threaten the living of the rest is not in any way affected by the means by which that wealth was obtained. The means may have constituted, as in past times they often did by their iniquity, an added injury to the community; but the fact of the disproportion, however resulting, was a continuing injury, without regard to its beginnings. Our ethics of wealth is indeed, as you say, extremely simple. It consists merely in the law of self-preservation, asserted in the name of all against the encroachments of any. It rests upon a principle which a child can understand as well as a philosopher, and which no philosopher ever attempted to refute—namely, the supreme right of all to live, and consequently to insist that society shall be so organized as to secure that right.
"But, after all," said the doctor, "what is there in our economic application of this principle which need impress a man of your time with any other sensation than one of surprise that it was not earlier made? Since what you were wont to call modern civilization existed, it has been a principle subscribed to by all governments and peoples that it is the first and supreme duty of the state to protect the lives of the citizens. For the purpose of doing this the police, the courts, the army, and the greater part of the machinery of governments has existed. You went so far as to hold that a state which did not at any cost and to the utmost of its resources safeguard the lives of its citizens forfeited all claim to their allegiance.
"But while professing this principle so broadly in words, you completely ignored in practice half and vastly the greater half of its meaning. You wholly overlooked and disregarded the peril to which life is exposed on the economic side—the hunger, cold, and thirst side. You went on the theory that it was only by club, knife, bullet, poison, or some other form of physical violence that life could be endangered, as if hunger, cold, and thirst—in a word, economic want—were not a far more constant and more deadly foe to existence than all the forms of violence together. You overlooked the plain fact that anybody who by any means, however indirect or remote, took away or curtailed one's means of subsistence attacked his life quite as dangerously as it could be done with knife or bullet—more so, indeed, seeing that against direct attack he would have a better chance of defending himself. You failed to consider that no amount of police, judicial, and military protection would prevent one from perishing miserably if he had not enough to eat and wear."
"We went on the theory," I said, "that it was not well for the state to intervene to do for the individual or to help him to do what he was able to do for himself. We held that the collective organization should only be appealed to when the power of the individual was manifestly unequal to the task of self-defense."
"It was not so bad a theory if you had lived up to it," said the doctor, "although the modern theory is far more rational that whatever can be done better by collective than individual action ought to be so undertaken, even if it could, after a more imperfect fashion, be individually accomplished. But don't you think that under the economic conditions which prevailed in America at the end of the nineteenth century, not to speak of Europe, the average man armed with a good revolver would have found the task of protecting himself and family against violence a far easier one than that of protecting them against want? Were not the odds against him far greater in the latter struggle than they could have been, if he were a tolerably good shot, in the former? Why, then, according to your own maxim, was the collective force of society devoted without stint to safeguarding him against violence, which he could have done for himself fairly well, while he was left to struggle against hopeless odds for the means of a decent existence? What hour, of what day of what year ever passed in which the number of deaths, and the physical and moral anguish resulting from the anarchy of the economic struggle and the crushing odds against the poor, did not outweigh as a hundred to one that same hour's record of death or suffering resulting from violence? Far better would society have fulfilled its recognized duty of safeguarding the lives of its members if, repealing every criminal law and dismissing every judge and policeman, it had left men to protect themselves as best they might against physical violence, while establishing in place of the machinery of criminal justice a system of economic administration whereby all would have been guaranteed against want. If, indeed, it had but substituted this collective economic organization for the criminal and judicial system it presently would have had as little need of the latter as we do, for most of the crimes that plagued you were direct or indirect consequences of your unjust economic conditions, and would have disappeared with them.
"But excuse my vehemence. Remember that I am arraigning your civilization and not you. What I wanted to bring out is that the principle that the first duty of society is to safeguard the lives of its members was as fully admitted by your world as by ours, and that in failing to give the principle an economic as well as police, judicial, and military interpretation, your world convicted itself of an inconsistency as glaring in logic as it was cruel in consequences. We, on the other hand, in assuming as a nation the responsibility of safeguarding the lives of the people on the economic side, have merely, for the first time, honestly carried out a principle as old as the civilized state."
"That is clear enough," I said. "Any one, on the mere statement of the case, would of course be bound to admit that the recognized duty of the state to guarantee the life of the citizen against the action of his fellows does logically involve responsibility to protect him from influences attacking the economic basis of life quite as much as from direct forcible assaults. The more advanced governments of my day, by their poor laws and pauper systems, in a dim way admitted this responsibility, although the kind of provision they made for the economically unfortunate was so meager and accompanied with such conditions of ignominy that men would ordinarily rather die than accept it. But grant that the sort of recognition we gave of the right of the citizen to be guaranteed a subsistence was a mockery more brutal than its total denial would have been, and that a far larger interpretation of its duty in this respect was incumbent on the state, yet how does it logically follow that society is bound to guarantee or the citizen to demand an absolute economic equality?"
"It is very true, as you say," answered the doctor, "that the duty of society to guarantee every member the economic basis of his life might be after some fashion discharged short of establishing economic equality. Just so in your day might the duty of the state to safeguard the lives of citizens from physical violence have been discharged after a nominal fashion if it had contented itself with preventing outright murders, while leaving the people to suffer from one another's wantonness all manner of violence not directly deadly; but tell me, Julian, were governments in your day content with so construing the limit of their duty to protect citizens from violence, or would the citizens have been content with such a limitation?"