A Traveler from Altruria: Romance
W. D. Howells
Part 3 out of 4
turning into tramps--"
"But I didn't say that, Mrs. Makely," the young fellow protested, in
"Well, it stands to reason that if the tramps have all been blacklisted
"But I didn't say that, either."
"No matter! What I am trying to get at is this: if a workman has made
himself a nuisance to the employers, haven't they a right to punish him in
any way they can?"
"I believe there's no law yet against blacklisting," said Camp.
"Very well, then, I don't see what they've got to complain of. The
employers surely know their own business."
"They claim to know the men's, too. That's what they're always saying;
they will manage their own affairs in their own way. But no man, or
company, that does business on a large scale has any affairs that are not
partly other folks' affairs, too. All the saying in the world won't make
"Very well, then," said Mrs. Makely, with a force of argument which she
seemed to think was irresistible, "I think the workmen had better leave
things to the employers, and then they won't get blacklisted. It's as
broad as it's long."
I confess that, although I agreed with Mrs. Makely in regard to what the
workmen had better do, her position had been arrived at by such
extraordinary reasoning that I blushed for her; at the same time, I wanted
to laugh. She continued, triumphantly: "You see, the employers have ever
so much more at stake."
"Then men have everything at stake--the work of their hands," said the
"Oh, but surely," said Mrs. Makely, "you wouldn't set that against
capital? You wouldn't compare the two?"
"Yes, I should," said Camp, and I could see his eye kindle and his jaw
"Then I suppose you would say that a man ought to get as much for his work
as an employer gets for his capital. If you think one has as much at stake
as the other, you must think they ought to be paid alike."
"That is _just_ what I think," said Camp, and Mrs. Makely burst into a
peal of amiable laughter.
"Now, that is too preposterous!"
"Why is it preposterous?" he demanded, with a quivering nostril.
"Why, simply because it _is_" said the lady, but she did not say why, and
although I thought so, too, I was glad she did not attempt to do it, for
her conclusions seemed to me much better than her reasons.
The old wooden clock in the kitchen began to strike, and she rose briskly
to her feet and went and laid the books she had been holding in her lap on
the table beside Mrs. Camp's bed. "We must really be going," she said, as
she leaned over and kissed the invalid. "It is your dinner-time, and we
shall barely get back for lunch if we go by the Loop road; and I want very
much to have Mr. Homos see the Witch's Falls on the way. I have got two or
three of the books here that Mr. Makely brought me last night--I sha'n't
have time to read them at once--and I'm smuggling in one of Mr.
Twelvemough's, that he's too modest to present for himself." She turned a
gay glance upon me, and Mrs. Camp thanked me, and a number of civilities
followed from all sides. In the process of their exchange, Mrs. Makely's
spirits perceptibly rose, and she came away in high good-humor with the
whole Camp family. "Well, now, I am sure," she said to the Altrurian, as
we began the long ascent of the Loop road, "you must allow that you have
seen some very original characters. But how _warped_ people get living
alone so much! That is the great drawback of the country. Mrs. Camp thinks
the savings-bank did her a real injury in taking a mortgage on her place,
and Reuben seems to have seen just enough of the outside world to get it
all wrong. But they are the best-hearted creatures in the world, and I
know you won't misunderstand them. That unsparing country bluntness--don't
you think it's perfectly delightful? I do like to stir poor Reuben up, and
get him talking. He is a good boy, if he _is_ so wrong-headed, and he's
the most devoted son and brother in the world. Very few young fellows
would waste their lives on an old farm like that; I suppose, when his
mother dies, he will marry and strike out for himself in some growing
"He did not seem to think the world held out any very bright inducements
for him to leave home," the Altrurian suggested.
"Oh, let him get one of these lively, pushing Yankee girls for a wife, and
he will think very differently," said Mrs. Makely.
The Altrurian disappeared that afternoon, and I saw little or nothing of
him till the next day at supper. Then he said he had been spending the
time with young Camp, who had shown him something of the farm-work, and
introduced him to several of the neighbors; he was very much interested in
it all, because at home he was, at present, engaged in farm-work himself,
and he was curious to contrast the American and Altrurian methods. We
began to talk of the farming interest again, later in the day, when the
members of our little group came together, and I told them what the
Altrurian had been doing. The doctor had been suddenly called back to
town; but the minister was there, and the lawyer and the professor and the
banker and the manufacturer.
It was the banker who began to comment on what I said, and he seemed to be
in the frank humor of the Saturday night before. "Yes," he said, "it's a
hard life, and they have to look sharp if they expect to make both ends
meet. I would not like to undertake it myself with their resources."
The professor smiled, in asking the Altrurian: "Did your agricultural
friends tell you anything of the little rural traffic in votes that they
carry on about election time? That is one of the side means they have of
making both ends meet."
"I don't understand," said the Altrurian.
"Why, you know, you can buy votes among our virtuous yeomen from two
dollars up at the ordinary elections. When party feeling runs high, and
there are vital questions at stake, the votes cost more."
The Altrurian looked round at us all aghast. "Do, you mean that Americans
The professor smiled again. "Oh no; I only mean that they sell them. Well,
I don't wonder that they rather prefer to blink the fact; but it is a
fact, nevertheless, and pretty notorious."
"Good heavens!" cried the Altrurian. "And what defence have they for such
treason? I don't mean those who sell; from what I have seen of the
bareness and hardship of their lives, I could well imagine that there
might sometimes come a pinch when they would be glad of the few dollars
that they could get in that way; but what have those who buy to say?"
"Well," said the professor, "it isn't a transaction that's apt to be
talked about much on either side."
"I think," the banker interposed, "that there is some exaggeration about
that business; but it certainly exists, and I suppose it is a growing evil
in the country. I fancy it arises, somewhat, from a want of, clear
thinking on the subject. Then there is no doubt but it comes, sometimes,
from poverty. A man sells his vote, as a woman sells her person, for
money, when neither can turn virtue into cash. They feel that they must
live, and neither of them would be satisfied if Dr. Johnson told them he
didn't see the necessity. In fact, I shouldn't myself, if I were in their
places. You can't have the good of a civilization like ours without having
the bad; but I am not going to deny that the bad is bad. Some people like
to do that; but I don't find my account in it. In either case, I confess
that I think the buyer is worse than the seller--incomparably worse. I
suppose you are not troubled with either case in Altruria?"
"Oh no!" said the Altrurian, with an utter horror, which no repetition of
his words can give the sense of. "It would be unimaginable."
"Still," the banker suggested, "you have cakes and ale, and at times the
ginger is hot in the mouth?"
"I don't pretend that we have immunity from error; but upon such terms as
you have described we have none. It would be impossible."
The Altrurian's voice expressed no contempt, but only a sad patience, a
melancholy surprise, such as a celestial angel might feel in being
suddenly confronted with some secret shame and horror of the Pit.
"Well," said the banker, "with us the only way is to take the business
view and try to strike an average somewhere."
"Talking of business," said the professor, turning to the manufacturer,
who had been quietly smoking, "why don't some of you capitalists take hold
of farming here in the East, and make a business of it as they do in the
"Thank you," said the other; "if you mean me, I would rather not invest."
He was silent a moment, and then he went on, as if the notion were
beginning to win upon him: "It may come to something like that, though. If
it does, the natural course, I should think, would he through the
railroads. It would he a very easy matter for them to buy up all the good
farms along their lines and put tenants on them, and run them in their own
interest. Really, it isn't a bad scheme. The waste in the present method
is enormous, and there is no reason why the roads should not own the
farms, as they are beginning to own the mines. They could manage them
better than the small farmers do in every way. I wonder the thing hasn't
occurred to some smart railroad man."
We all laughed a little, perceiving the semi-ironical spirit of his talk;
but the Altrurian must have taken it in dead earnest: "But, in that case,
the number of people thrown out of work would be very great, wouldn't it?
And what would become of them?"
"Well, they would have whatever their farms brought to make a new start
with somewhere else; and, besides, that question of what would become of
people thrown out of work by a given improvement is something that capital
cannot consider. We used to introduce a bit of machinery in the mill,
every now and then, that threw out a dozen or a hundred people; but we
couldn't stop for that."
"And you never knew what became of them?"
"Sometimes. Generally not. We took it for granted that they would light on
their feet somehow."
"And the state--the whole people--the government--did nothing for them?"
"If it became a question of the poor-house, yes."
"Or the jail," the lawyer suggested.
"Speaking of the poor-house," said the professor, "did our exemplary rural
friends tell you how they sell out their paupers to the lowest bidder, and
get them boarded sometimes as low as a dollar and a quarter a week?"
"Yes, young Mr. Camp told me of that. He seemed to think it was terrible."
"Did he? Well, I'm glad to hear that of young Mr. Camp. From all that I've
been told before, he seems to reserve his conscience for the use of
capitalists. What does he propose to do about it?"
"He seems to think the state ought to find work for them."
"Oh, paternalism! Well, I guess the state won't."
"That was his opinion, too."
"It seems a hard fate," said the minister, "that the only provision the
law makes for people who are worn out by sickness or a life of work should
be something that assorts them with idiots and lunatics, and brings such
shame upon them that it is almost as terrible as death."
"It is the only way to encourage independence and individuality," said the
professor. "Of course, it has its dark side. But anything else would be
sentimental and unbusinesslike, and, in fact, un-American."
"I am not so sure that it would be un-Christian," the minister timidly
ventured, in the face of such an authority on political economy.
"Oh, as to that, I must leave the question to the reverend clergy," said
A very unpleasant little silence followed. It was broken by the lawyer,
who put his feet together, and, after a glance down at them, began to say:
"I was very much interested this afternoon by a conversation I had with
some of the young fellows in the hotel. You know most of them are
graduates, and they are taking a sort of supernumerary vacation this
summer before they plunge into the battle of life in the autumn. They were
talking of some other fellows, classmates of theirs, who were not so
lucky, but had been obliged to begin the fight at once. It seems that our
fellows here are all going in for some sort of profession: medicine or law
or engineering or teaching or the church, and they were commiserating
those other fellows not only because they were not having the
supernumerary vacation, but because they were going into business. That
struck me as rather odd, and I tried to find out what it meant, and, as
nearly as I could find out, it meant that most college graduates would not
go into business if they could help it. They seemed to feel a sort of
incongruity between their education and the business life. They pitied the
fellows that had to go in for it, and apparently the fellows that had to
go in for it pitied themselves, for the talk seemed to have begun about a
letter that one of the chaps here had got from poor Jack or Jim somebody,
who had been obliged to go into his father's business, and was groaning
over it. The fellows who were going to study professions were hugging
themselves at the contrast between their fate and his, and were making
remarks about business that were, to say the least, unbusinesslike. A few
years ago we should have made a summary disposition of the matter, and I
believe some of the newspapers still are in doubt about the value of a
college education to men who have got to make their way. What do you
The lawyer addressed his question to the manufacturer, who answered, with
a comfortable satisfaction, that he did not think those young men if they
went into business would find that they knew too much.
"But they pointed out," said the lawyer, "that the great American fortunes
had been made by men who had never had their educational advantages, and
they seemed to think that what we call the education of a gentleman was a
little too good for money-making purposes."
"Well," said the other, "they can console themselves with the reflection
that going into business isn't necessarily making money; it isn't
necessarily making a living, even."
"Some of them seem to have caught on to that fact; and they pitied Jack or
Jim partly because the chances were so much against him. But they pitied
him mostly because in the life before him he would have no use for his
academic training, and he had better not gone to college at all. They said
he would be none the better for it, and would always be miserable when he
looked back to it."
The manufacturer did not reply, and the professor, after a preliminary
hemming, held his peace. It was the banker who took the word: "Well, so
far as business is concerned, they were right. It is no use to pretend
that there is any relation between business and the higher education.
There is no business man who will pretend that there is not often an
actual incompatibility if he is honest. I know that when we get together
at a commercial or financial dinner we talk as if great merchants and
great financiers were beneficent geniuses, who evoked the prosperity of
mankind by their schemes from the conditions that would otherwise have
remained barren. Well, very likely they are, but we must all confess that
they do not know it at the time. What they are consciously looking out for
then is the main chance. If general prosperity follows, all well and good;
they are willing to be given the credit for it. But, as I said, with
business as business, the 'education of a gentleman' has nothing to do.
That education is always putting the old Ciceronian question: whether the
fellow arriving at a starving city with a cargo of grain is bound to tell
the people before he squeezes them that there are half a dozen other
fellows with grain just below the horizon. As a gentleman he would have to
tell them, because he could not take advantage of their necessities; but,
as a business man, he would think it bad business to tell them, or no
business at all. The principle goes all through; I say, business is
business; and I am not going to pretend that business will ever be
anything else. In our business battles we don't take off our hats to the
other side and say, 'Gentlemen of the French Guard, have the goodness to
fire.' That may be war, but it is not business. We seize all the
advantages we can; very few of us would actually deceive; but if a fellow
believes a thing, and we know he is wrong, we do not usually take the
trouble to set him right, if we are going to lose anything by undeceiving
him. That would not be business. I suppose you think that is dreadful?" He
turned smilingly to the minister.
"I wish--I wish," said the minister, gently, "it could be otherwise."
"Well, I wish so, too," returned the banker. "But it isn't. Am I right or
am I wrong?" he demanded of the manufacturer, who laughed.
"I am not conducting this discussion. I will not deprive you of the
"What you say," I ventured to put in, "reminds me of the experience of a
friend of mine, a brother novelist. He wrote a story where the failure of
a business man turned on a point just like that you have instanced. The
man could have retrieved himself if he had let some people believe that
what was so was not so, but his conscience stepped in and obliged him to
own the truth. There was a good deal of talk about the case, I suppose,
because it was not in real life, and my friend heard divers criticisms. He
heard of a group of ministers who blamed him for exalting a case of common
honesty, as if it were something extraordinary; and he heard of some
business men who talked it over and said he had worked the case up
splendidly, but he was all wrong in the outcome--the fellow would never
have told the other fellows. They said it would not have been business."
We all laughed except the minister and the Altrurian; the manufacturer
said: "Twenty-five years hence, the fellow who is going into business may
pity the fellows who are pitying him for his hard fate now."
"Very possibly, but not necessarily," said the banker. "Of course, the
business man is on top, as far as money goes; he is the fellow who makes
the big fortunes; the millionaire lawyers and doctors and ministers are
exceptional. But his risks are tremendous. Ninety-five times out of a
hundred he fails. To be sure, he picks up and goes on, but he seldom gets
there, after all."
"Then in your system," said the Altrurian, "the great majority of those
who go into what you call the battle of life are defeated?"
"The killed, wounded, and missing sum up a frightful total," the banker
admitted. "But whatever the end is, there is a great deal of prosperity on
the way. The statistics are correct, but they do not tell the whole truth.
It is not so bad as it seems. Still, simply looking at the material
chances, I don't blame those young fellows for not wanting to go into
business. And when you come to other considerations! We used to cut the
knot of the difficulty pretty sharply; we said a college education was
wrong, or the hot and hot American spread-eaglers did. Business is the
national ideal, and the successful business man is the American type. It
is a business man's country."
"Then, if I understand you," said the Altrurian, "and I am very anxious to
have a clear understanding of the matter, the effect of the university
with you is to unfit a youth for business life."
"Oh no. It may give him great advantages in it, and that is the theory and
expectation of most fathers who send their sons to the university. But,
undoubtedly, the effect is to render business life distasteful. The
university nurtures all sorts of lofty ideals, which business has no use
"Then the effect is undemocratic?"
"No, it is simply unbusinesslike. The boy is a better democrat when he
leaves college than he will be later, if he goes into business. The
university has taught him and equipped him to use his own gifts and powers
for his advancement; but the first lesson of business, and the last, is to
use other men's gifts and powers. If he looks about him at all, he sees
that no man gets rich simply by his own labor, no matter how mighty a
genius he is, and that, if you want to get rich, you must make other men
work for you, and pay you for the privilege of doing so. Isn't that true?"
The banker turned to the manufacturer with this question, and the other
said: "The theory is, that we give people work," and they both laughed.
The minister said: "I believe that in Altruria no man works for the profit
"No; each works for the profit of all," replied the Altrurian.
"Well," said the banker, "you seem to have made it go. Nobody can deny
that. But we couldn't make it go here."
"Why? I am very curious to know why our system seems so impossible to
"Well, it is contrary to the American spirit. It is alien to our love of
"But we prize individuality, too, and we think we secure it under our
system. Under yours, it seems to me that while the individuality of the
man who makes other men work for him is safe, except from itself, the
individuality of the workers--"
"Well, that is their lookout. We have found that, upon the whole, it is
best to let every man look out for himself. I know that, in a certain
light, the result has an ugly aspect; but, nevertheless, in spite of all,
the country is enormously prosperous. The pursuit of happiness, which is
one of the inalienable rights secured to us by the Declaration, is, and
always has been, a dream; but the pursuit of the dollar yields tangible
proceeds, and we get a good deal of excitement out of it as it goes on.
You can't deny that we are the richest nation in the world. Do you call
Altruria a rich country?"
I could not quite make out whether the banker was serious or not in all
this talk; sometimes I suspected him of a fine mockery, but the Altrurian
took him upon the surface of his words.
"I hardly know whether it is or not. The question of wealth does not enter
into our scheme. I can say that we all have enough, and that no one is
even in the fear of want."
"Yes, that is very well. But we should think it was paying too much for it
if we had to give up the hope of ever having more than we wanted," and at
this point the banker uttered his jolly laugh, and I perceived that he had
been trying to draw the Altrurian out and practise upon his patriotism. It
was a great relief to find that he had been joking in so much that seemed
a dead give-away of our economical position. "In Altruria," he asked, "who
is your ideal great man? I don't mean personally, but abstractly."
The Altrurian thought a moment. "With us there is so little ambition for
distinction, as you understand it, that your question is hard to answer.
But I should say, speaking largely, that it was some man who had been able
for the time being to give the greatest happiness to the greatest number--
some artist or poet or inventor or physician."
I was somewhat surprised to have the banker take this preposterous
statement seriously, respectfully. "Well, that is quite conceivable with
your system. What should you say," he demanded of the rest of us
generally, "was our ideal of greatness?"
No one replied at once, or at all, till the manufacturer said: "We will
let you continue to run it."
"Well, it is a very curious inquiry, and I have thought it over a good
deal. I should say that within a generation our ideal has changed twice.
Before the war, and during all the time from the Revolution onward, it was
undoubtedly the great politician, the publicist, the statesman. As we grew
older and began to have an intellectual life of our own, I think the
literary fellows had a pretty good share of the honors that were going--
that is, such a man as Longfellow was popularly considered a type of
greatness. When the war came, it brought the soldier to the front, and
there was a period of ten or fifteen years when he dominated the national
imagination. That period passed, and the great era of material prosperity
set in. The big fortunes began to tower up, and heroes of another sort
began to appeal to our admiration. I don't think there is any doubt but
the millionaire is now the American ideal. It isn't very pleasant to think
so, even for people who have got on, but it can't very hopefully be
denied. It is the man with the most money who now takes the prize in our
The Altrurian turned curiously toward me, and I did my best to tell him
what a cake-walk was. When I had finished, the banker resumed, only to
say, as he rose from his chair to bid us good-night: "In any average
assembly of Americans the greatest millionaire would take the eyes of all
from the greatest statesman, the greatest poet, or the greatest soldier we
ever had. That," he added to the Altrurian, "will account to you for many
things as you travel through our country."
The next time the members of our little group came together, the
manufacturer began at once upon the banker:
"I should think that our friend the professor, here, would hardly like
that notion of yours, that business, as business, has nothing to do with
the education of a gentleman. If this is a business man's country, and if
the professor has nothing in stock but the sort of education that business
has no use for, I should suppose that he would want to go into some other
The banker mutely referred the matter to the professor, who said, with
that cold grin of his which I hated:
"Perhaps we shall wait for business to purge and live cleanly. Then it
will have some use for the education of a gentleman."
"I see," said the banker, "that I have touched the quick in both of you,
when I hadn't the least notion of doing so. But I shouldn't really like to
prophesy which will adapt itself to the other--education or business. Let
us hope there will be mutual concessions. There are some pessimists who
say that business methods, especially on the large scale of the trusts and
combinations, have grown worse instead of better; but this may be merely
what is called a 'transition state.' Hamlet must be cruel to be kind; the
darkest hour comes before dawn--and so on. Perhaps when business gets
the whole affair of life into its hands, and runs the republic, as its
enemies now accuse it of doing, the process of purging and living cleanly
will begin. I have known lots of fellows who started in life rather
scampishly; but when they felt secure of themselves, and believed that
they could afford to be honest, they became so. There's no reason why the
same thing shouldn't happen on a large scale. We must never forget that we
are still a very novel experiment, though we have matured so rapidly in
some respects that we have come to regard ourselves as an accomplished
fact. We are really less so than we were forty years ago, with all the
tremendous changes since the war. Before that we could take certain
matters for granted. If a man got out of work, he turned his hand to
something else; if a man failed in business, he started in again from some
other direction; as a last resort, in both cases, he went West, pre-empted
a quarter-section of public land, and grew up with the country. Now the
country is grown up; the public land is gone; business is full on all
sides, and the hand that turned itself to something else has lost its
cunning. The struggle for life has changed from a free-fight to an
encounter of disciplined forces, and the free-fighters that are left get
ground to pieces between organized labor and organized capital. Decidedly,
we are in a transition state, and if the higher education tried to adapt
itself to business needs, there are chances that it might sacrifice itself
without helping business. After all, how much education does business
need? Were our great fortunes made by educated men, or men of university
training? I don't know but these young fellows are right about that."
"Yes, that may all be," I put in. "But it seems to me that you give Mr.
Homos, somehow, a wrong impression of our economic life by your
generalizations. You are a Harvard man yourself."
"Yes, and I am not a rich man. A million or two, more or less; but what is
that? I have suffered, at the start and all along, from the question as to
what a man with the education of a gentleman ought to do in such and such
a juncture. The fellows who have not that sort of education have not that
sort of question, and they go in and win."
"So you admit, then," said the professor, "that the higher education
elevates a business man's standard of morals?"
"Undoubtedly. That is one of its chief drawbacks," said the banker, with a
"Well," I said, with the deference due even to a man who had only a
million or two, more or less, "we must allow _you_ to say such things. But
if the case is so bad with the business men who have made the great
fortunes--the business men who have never had the disadvantage of a
university education--I wish you would explain to Mr. Homos why, in every
public exigency, we instinctively appeal to the business sense of the
community as if it were the fountain of wisdom, probity, and equity.
Suppose there were some question of vital interest--I won't say financial,
but political or moral or social--on which it was necessary to rouse
public opinion, what would be the first thing to do? To call a meeting
over the signatures of the leading business men, because no other names
appeal with such force to the public. You might get up a call signed by
all the novelists, artists, ministers, lawyers, and doctors in the state,
and it would not have a tithe of the effect, with the people at large,
that a call signed by a few leading merchants, bank presidents, railroad
men, and trust officers would have. What is the reason? It seems strange
that I should be asking you to defend yourself against yourself."
"Not at all, my dear fellow, not at all," the banker replied, with his
caressing bonhomie. "Though I will confess, to begin with, that I do not
expect to answer your question to your entire satisfaction. I can only do
my best--on the instalment plan."
He turned to the Altrurian, and then went on: "As I said the other night,
this is a business man's country. We are a purely commercial people; money
is absolutely to the fore; and business, which is the means of getting the
most money, is the American ideal. If you like, you may call it the
American fetish; I don't mind calling it so myself. The fact that business
is our ideal, or our fetish, will account for the popular faith in
business men, who form its priesthood, its hierarchy. I don't know,
myself, any other reason for regarding business men as solider than
novelists or artists or ministers, not to mention lawyers and doctors.
They are supposed to have long heads; but it appears that ninety-five
times out of a hundred they haven't. They are supposed to be very
reliable; but it is almost invariably a business man of some sort who gets
out to Canada while the state examiner is balancing his books, and it is
usually the longest headed business men who get plundered by him. No, it
is simply because business is our national ideal that the business man is
honored above all other men among us. In the aristocratic countries they
forward a public object under the patronage of the nobility and gentry; in
a plutocratic country they get the business men to indorse it. I suppose
that the average American citizen feels that they wouldn't indorse a thing
unless it was safe; and the average American citizen likes to be safe--he
is cautious. As a matter of fact, business men are always taking risks,
and business is a game of chance, in a certain degree. Have I made myself
"Entirely so," said the Altrurian; and he seemed so thoroughly well
satisfied that he forbore asking any further question.
No one else spoke. The banker lighted a cigar, and resumed at the point
where he left off when I ventured to enter upon the defence of his class
with him. I must say that he had not convinced me at all. At that moment
I would rather have trusted him, in any serious matter of practical
concern, than all the novelists I ever heard of. But I thought I would
leave the word to him, without further attempt to reinstate him in his
self-esteem. In fact, he seemed to be getting along very well without it,
or else he was feeling that mysterious control from the Altrurian which I
had already suspected him of using. Voluntarily or involuntarily, the
banker proceeded with his contribution to the Altrurian's stock of
knowledge concerning our civilization:
"I don't believe, however, that the higher education is any more of a
failure, as a provision for a business career, than the lower education is
for the life of labor. I suppose that the hypercritical observer might say
that in a wholly commercial civilization like ours the business man really
needed nothing beyond the three R's, and the working-man needed no R at
all. As a practical affair, there is a good deal to be said in favor of
that view. The higher education is part of the social ideal which we have
derived from the past, from Europe. It is part of the provision for the
life of leisure, the life of the aristocrat, which nobody of our
generation leads, except women. Our women really have some use for the
education of a gentleman, but our men have none. How will that do for a
generalization?" the banker asked of me.
"Oh," I admitted, with a laugh, "it is a good deal like one of my own. I
have always been struck with that phase of our civilization."
"Well, then," the banker resumed, "take the lower education. That is part
of the civic ideal which, I suppose, I may say we evolved from the depths
of our inner consciousness of what an American citizen ought to be. It
includes instruction in all the R's, and in several other letters of the
alphabet. It is given free by the state, and no one can deny that it is
thoroughly socialistic in conception and application."
"Distinctly so," said the professor. "Now that the text-books are
furnished by the state, we have only to go a step further and provide a
good, hot lunch for the children every day, as they do in Paris."
"Well," the banker returned, "I don't know that I should have much to say
against that. It seems as reasonable as anything in the system of
education which we force upon the working classes. _They_ know perfectly
well, whether we do or not, that the three R's will not make their
children better mechanics or laborers, and that, if the fight for a mere
living is to go on from generation to generation, they will have no
leisure to apply the little learning they get in the public schools for
their personal culture. In the mean time we deprive the parents of their
children's labor, in order that they may be better citizens for their
schooling, as we imagine; I don't know whether they are or not. We offer
them no sort of compensation for their time, and I think we ought to feel
obliged to them for not wanting wages for their children while we are
teaching them to be better citizens."
"You know," said the professor, "that has been suggested by some of their
"No, really? Well, that is too good!" The banker threw back his head and
roared, and we all laughed with him. When we had sobered down again, he
said: "I suppose that when a working-man makes all the use he can of his
lower education he becomes a business man, and then he doesn't need the
higher. Professor, you seem to be left out in the cold by our system,
whichever way you take it."
"Oh," said the professor, "the law of supply and demand works both ways:
it creates the demand, if the supply comes first; and if we keep on giving
the sons of business men the education of a gentleman, we may yet make
them feel the need of it. We shall evolve a new sort of business man."
"The sort that can't make money, or wouldn't exactly like to, on some
terms?" asked the banker. "Well, perhaps we shall work out our democratic
salvation in that way. When you have educated your new business man to the
point where he can't consent to get rich at the obvious cost of others,
you've got him on the way back to work with his hands. He will sink into
the ranks of labor, and give the fellow with the lower education a chance.
I've no doubt he'll take it. I don't know but you're right, professor."
The lawyer had not spoken as yet. Now he said: "Then it is education,
after all, that is to bridge the chasm between the classes and the masses,
though it seems destined to go a long way around about it. There was a
time, I believe, when we expected religion to do that."
"Well, it may still be doing it, for all I know," said the banker. "What
do you say?" he asked, turning to the minister. "You ought to be able to
give us some statistics on the subject with that large congregation of
yours. You preach to more people than any other pulpit in your city."
The banker named one of the principal cities in the East, and the minister
answered, with, modest pride: "I am not sure of that; but our society is
certainly a very large one."
"Well, and how many of the lower classes are there in it--people who work
for their living with their hands?"
The minister stirred uneasily in his chair, and at last he said, with
evident unhappiness: "They--I suppose--they have their own churches. I
have never thought that such a separation of the classes was right; and I
have had some of the very best people--socially and financially--with me
in the wish that there might be more brotherliness between the rich and
poor among us. But as yet--"
He stopped; the banker pursued: "Do you mean there are _no_ working-people
in your congregation?"
"I cannot think of any," returned the minister, so miserably that the
banker forbore to press the point.
The lawyer broke the awkward pause which followed: "I have heard it
asserted that there is no country in the world where the separation of the
classes is so absolute as in ours. In fact, I once heard a Russian
revolutionist, who had lived in exile all over Europe, say that he had
never seen anywhere such a want of kindness or sympathy between rich and
poor as he had observed in America. I doubted whether he was right. But he
believed that, if it ever came to the industrial revolution with us, the
fight would be more uncompromising than any such fight that the world had
ever seen. There was no respect from low to high, he said, and no
consideration from high to low, as there were in countries with traditions
and old associations."
"Well," said the banker, "there may be something in that. Certainly, so
far as the two forces have come into conflict here, there has been no
disposition, on either side, to 'make war with the water of roses.' It's
astonishing, in fact, to see how ruthless the fellows who have just got up
are toward the fellows who are still down. And the best of us have been up
only a generation or two--and the fellows who are still down know it."
"And what do you think would be the outcome of such a conflict?" I asked,
with my soul divided between fear of it and the perception of its
excellence as material. My fancy vividly sketched the outline of a story
which should forecast the struggle and its event, somewhat on the plan of
the Battle of Dorking.
"We should beat," said the banker, breaking his cigar-ash off with his
little finger; and I instantly cast him, with his ironic calm, for the
part of a great patrician leader in my "Fall of the Republic." Of course,
I disguised him somewhat, and travestied his worldly bonhomie with the
bluff sang-froid of the soldier; these things are easily done.
"What makes you think we should beat?" asked the manufacturer, with a
"Well, all the good jingo reasons: we have got the materials for beating.
Those fellows throw away their strength whenever they begin to fight, and
they've been so badly generalled, up to the present time, that they have
wanted to fight at the outset of every quarrel. They have been beaten in
every quarrel, but still they always want to begin by fighting. That is
all right. When they have learned enough to begin by _voting_, then we
shall have to look out. But if they keep on fighting, and always putting
themselves in the wrong and getting the worst of it, perhaps we can fix
the voting so we needn't be any more afraid of that than we are of the
fighting. It's astonishing how short-sighted they are. They, have no
conception of any cure for their grievances except more wages and fewer
"But," I asked, "do you really think they have any just grievances?"
"Of course not, as a business man," said the banker. "If I were a
working-man, I should probably think differently. But we will suppose, for
the sake of argument, that their day is too long and their pay is too
short. How do they go about to better themselves? They strike. Well, a
strike is a fight, and in a fight, nowadays, it is always skill and money
that win. The working-men can't stop till they have put themselves outside
of the public sympathy which the newspapers say is so potent in their
behalf; I never saw that it did them the least good. They begin by
boycotting, and breaking the heads of the men who want to work. They
destroy property, and they interfere with business--the two absolutely
sacred things in the American religion. Then we call out the militia and
shoot a few of them, and their leaders declare the strike off. It is
"But will it be quite as simple," I asked, reluctant in behalf of my
projected romance, to have the matter so soon disposed of--"will it be
quite so simple if their leaders ever persuade the working-men to leave
the militia, as they threaten to do, from time to time?"
"No, not quite so simple," the banker admitted. "Still, the fight would be
comparatively simple. In the first place, I doubt--though I won't be
certain about it--whether there are a great many working-men in the
militia now. I rather fancy it is made up, for the most part, of clerks
and small tradesmen and book-keepers, and such employes of business as
have time and money for it. I may be mistaken."
No one seemed able to say whether he was mistaken or not; and, after
waiting a moment, he proceeded: "I feel pretty sure that it is so in the
city companies and regiments, at any rate, and that if every working-man
left them it would not seriously impair their effectiveness. But when the
working-men have left the militia, what have they done? They have
eliminated the only thing that disqualifies it for prompt and unsparing
use against strikers. As long as they are in it we might have our
misgivings, but if they were once out of it we should have none. And what
would they gain? They would not be allowed to arm and organize as an
inimical force. _That_ was settled once for all in Chicago, in the case of
the International Groups. A few squads of policemen would break them up.
Why," the banker exclaimed, with his good-humored laugh, "how preposterous
they are when you come to look at it! They are in the majority, the
immense majority, if you count the farmers, and they prefer to behave as
if they were the hopeless minority. They say they want an eight-hour law,
and every now and then they strike and try to fight it. Why don't they
_vote_ it? They could _make_ it the law in six months by such overwhelming
numbers that no one would dare to evade or defy it. They can make any law
they want, but they prefer to break such laws as we have. That 'alienates
public sympathy,' the newspapers say; but the spectacle of their stupidity
and helpless wilfulness is so lamentable that I could almost pity them. If
they chose, it would take only a few years to transform our government
into the likeness of anything they wanted. But they would rather not have
what they want, apparently, if they can only keep themselves from getting
it, and they have to work hard to do that!"
"I suppose," I said, "that they are misled by the un-American principles
and methods of the Socialists among them."
"Why, no," returned the banker, "I shouldn't say that. As far as I
understand it, the Socialists are the only fellows among them who propose
to vote their ideas into laws, and nothing can be more American than that.
I don't believe the Socialists stir up the strikes--at least, among our
working-men; though the newspapers convict them of it, generally without
trying them. The Socialists seem to accept the strikes as the inevitable
outcome of the situation, and they make use of them as proofs of the
industrial discontent. But, luckily for the status, our labor leaders are
not Socialists, for your Socialist, whatever you may say against him, has
generally thought himself into a Socialist. He knows that until the
working-men stop fighting, and get down to voting--until they consent to
be the majority--there is no hope for them. I am not talking of
anarchists, mind you, but of Socialists, whose philosophy is more law, not
less, and who look forward to an order so just that it can't be
"And what," the minister faintly said, "do you think will be the outcome
of it all?"
"We had that question the other night, didn't we? Our legal friend here
seemed to feel that we might rub along indefinitely as we are doing, or
work out an Altruria of our own; or go back to the patriarchal stage and
own our working-men. He seemed not to have so much faith in the logic of
events as I have. I doubt if it is altogether a woman's logic. _Parole
femmine, fatti maschi,_ and the logic of events isn't altogether words;
it's full of hard knocks, too. But I'm no prophet. I can't forecast the
future; I prefer to take it as it comes. There's a little tract of William
Morris's, though--I forget just what he calls it--that is full of curious
and interesting speculation on this point. He thinks that, if we keep the
road we are now going, the last state of labor will be like its first, and
it will be owned."
"Oh, I don't believe that will ever happen in America," I protested.
"Why not?" asked the banker. "Practically, it is owned already in a vastly
greater measure than we recognize. And where would the great harm be? The
new slavery would not be like the old. There needn't be irresponsible
whipping and separation of families, and private buying and selling. The
proletariate would probably be owned by the state, as it was at one time
in Greece; or by large corporations, which would be much more in keeping
with the genius of our free institutions; and an enlightened public
opinion would cast safeguards about it in the form of law to guard it from
abuse. But it would be strictly policed, localized, and controlled. There
would probably be less suffering than there is now, when a man may be
cowed into submission to any terms through the suffering of his family;
when he may be starved out and turned out if he is unruly. You may be sure
that nothing of that kind would happen in the new slavery. We have not had
nineteen hundred years of Christianity for nothing."
The banker paused, and, as the silence continued, he broke it with a
laugh, which was a prodigious relief to my feelings, and I suppose to the
feelings of all. I perceived that he had been joking, and I was confirmed
in this when he turned to the Altrurian and laid his hand upon his
shoulder. "You see," he said, "I'm a kind of Altrurian myself. What is the
reason why we should not found a new Altruria here on the lines I've
drawn? Have you never had philosophers--well, call them philanthropists; I
don't mind--of my way of thinking among you?"
"Oh yes," said the Altrurian. "At one time, just before we emerged from
the competitive conditions, there was much serious question whether
capital should not own labor instead of labor owning capital. That was
many hundred years ago."
"I am proud to find myself such an advanced thinker," said the banker.
"And how came you to decide that labor should own capital?"
"We voted it," answered the Altrurian.
"Well," said the banker, "our fellows are still fighting it, and getting
I found him later in the evening talking with Mrs. Makely. "My dear sir,"
I said, "I liked your frankness with my Altrurian friend immensely; and it
may be well to put the worst foot foremost; but what is the advantage of
not leaving us a leg to stand upon?"
He was not in the least offended at my boldness, as I had feared he might
be, but he said, with that jolly laugh of his: "Capital! Well, perhaps I
have worked my candor a little too hard; I suppose there is such a thing.
But don't you see that it leaves me in the best possible position to carry
the war into Altruria when we get him to open up about his native land?"
"Ah! If you can get him to do it."
"Well, we were just talking about that. Mrs. Makely has a plan."
"Yes," said the lady, turning an empty chair near her own toward me. "Sit
down and listen."
I sat down, and Mrs. Makely continued: "I have thought it all out, and I
want you to confess that in all practical matters a woman's brain is
better than a man's. Mr. Bullion, here, says it is, and I want you to say
"Yes," the banker admitted, "when it comes down to business a woman is
worth any two of us."
"And we have just been agreeing," I coincided, "that the only gentlemen
among us are women. Mrs. Makely, I admit, without further dispute, that
the most unworldly woman is worldlier than the worldliest man; and that in
all practical matters we fade into dreamers and doctrinaires beside you.
Now, go on."
But she did not mean to let me off so easily. She began to brag herself
up, as women do whenever you make them the slightest concession.
"Here, you men," she said, "have been trying for a whole week to get
something out of Mr. Homos about his country, and you have left it to a
poor, weak woman, at last, to think how to manage it. I do believe that
you get so much interested in your own talk, when you are with him, that
you don't let him get in a word, and that's the reason you haven't found
out anything about Altruria yet from him."
In view of the manner in which she had cut in at Mrs. Camp's, and stopped
Homos on the very verge of the only full and free confession he had ever
been near making about Altruria, I thought this was pretty cool; but, for
fear of worse, I said:
"You're quite right, Mrs. Makely. I'm sorry to say that there has been a
shameful want of self-control among us, and that, if we learn anything at
all from him, it will be because you have taught us how."
She could not resist this bit of taffy. She scarcely gave herself time to
gulp it before she said:
"Oh, it's very well to say that now! But where would you have been if I
hadn't set my wits to work? Now, listen! It just popped into my mind, like
an inspiration, when I was thinking of something altogether different. It
flashed upon me in an instant: a good object, and a public occasion."
"Well?" I said, finding this explosion and electrical inspiration rather
"Why, you know, the Union Chapel, over in the village, is in a languishing
condition, and the ladies have been talking all summer about doing
something for it, getting up something--a concert or theatricals or a
dance or something--and applying the proceeds to repainting and papering
the visible church; it needs it dreadfully. But, of course, those things
are not exactly religious, don't you know; and a fair is so much trouble;
and _such_ a bore, when you get the articles ready, even; and everybody
feels swindled; and now people frown on raffles, so there is no use
thinking of them. What you want is something striking. We did think of a
parlor-reading, or perhaps ventriloquism; but the performers all charge so
much that there wouldn't be anything left after paying expenses."
She seemed to expect some sort of prompting at this point; so I said:
"Well," she repeated, "that is just where your Mr. Homos comes in."
"Oh! How does he come in there?"
"Why, get him to deliver a Talk on Altruria. As soon as he knows it's for
a good object, he will be on fire to do it; and they must live so much in
common there that the public occasion will be just the thing that will
appeal to him."
It did seem a good plan to me, and I said so. But Mrs. Makely was so much
in love with it that she was not satisfied with my modest recognition.
"Good? It's magnificent! It's the very thing! And I have thought it out,
down to the last detail--"
"Excuse me," I interrupted. "Do you think there is sufficient general
interest in the subject, outside of the hotel, to get a full house for
him? I shouldn't like to see him subjected to the mortification of empty
"What in the world are you thinking of? Why, there isn't a farm-house,
anywhere within ten miles, where they haven't heard of Mr. Homos; and
there isn't a servant under this roof, or in any of the boarding-houses,
who doesn't know something about Altruria and want to know more. It seems
that your friend has been much oftener with the porters and the
stable-boys than he has been with us."
I had only too great reason to fear so. In spite of my warnings and
entreaties, he had continued to behave toward every human being he met
exactly as if they were equals. He apparently could not conceive of that
social difference which difference of occupation creates among us. He
owned that he saw it, and from the talk of our little group he knew it
existed; but, when I expostulated with him upon some act in gross
violation of society usage, he only answered that he could not imagine
that what he saw and knew could actually be. It was quite impossible to
keep him from bowing with the greatest deference to our waitress; he shook
hands with the head-waiter every morning as well as with me; there was a
fearful story current in the house, that he had been seen running down one
of the corridors to relieve a chambermaid laden with two heavy water-pails
which she was carrying to the rooms to fill up the pitchers. This was
probably not true; but I myself saw him helping in the hotel hay-field one
afternoon, shirt-sleeved like any of the hired men. He said that it was
the best possible exercise, and that he was ashamed he could give no
better excuse for it than the fact that without something of the kind he
should suffer from indigestion. It was grotesque, and out of all keeping
with a man of his cultivation and breeding. He was a gentleman and a
scholar, there was no denying, and yet he did things in contravention of
good form at every opportunity, and nothing I could say had any effect
with him. I was perplexed beyond measure, the day after I had reproached
him for his labor in the hay-field, to find him in a group of table-girls,
who were listening while the head-waiter read aloud to them in the shade
of the house; there was a corner looking toward the stables which was
given up to them by tacit consent of the guests during a certain part of
I feigned not to see him, but I could not forbear speaking to him about it
afterward. He took it in good part, but he said he had been rather
disappointed in the kind of literature they liked and the comments they
made on it; he had expected that with the education they had received, and
with their experience of the seriousness of life, they would prefer
something less trivial. He supposed, however, that a romantic love-story,
where a poor American girl marries an English lord, formed a refuge for
them from the real world which promised them so little and held them so
cheap. It was quite useless for one to try to make him realize his
behavior in consorting with servants as a kind of scandal.
The worst of it was that his behavior, as I could see, had already begun
to demoralize the objects of his misplaced politeness. At first the
servants stared and resented it, as if it were some tasteless joke; but in
an incredibly short time, when they saw that he meant his courtesy in good
faith, they took it as their due. I had always had a good understanding
with the head-waiter, and I thought I could safely smile with him at the
queer conduct of my friend toward himself and his fellow-servants.
To my astonishment he said: "I don't see why he shouldn't treat them as if
they were ladies and gentlemen. Doesn't he treat you and your friends so?"
It was impossible to answer this, and I could only suffer in silence, and
hope the Altrurian would soon go. I had dreaded the moment when the
landlord should tell me that his room was wanted; now I almost desired it;
but he never did. On the contrary, the Altrurian was in high favor with
him. He said he liked to see a man make himself pleasant with everybody;
and that he did not believe he had ever had a guest in the house who was
so popular all round.
"Of course," Mrs. Makely went on, "I don't criticise him--with his
peculiar traditions. I presume I should be just so myself if I had been
brought up in Altruria, which, thank goodness, I wasn't. But Mr. Homos is
a perfect dear, and all the women in the house are in love with him, from
the cook's helpers, up and down. No, the only danger is that there won't
be room in the hotel parlors for all the people that will want to hear
him, and we shall have to make the admission something that will be
prohibitive in most cases. We shall have to make it a dollar."
"Well," I said, "I think that will settle the question as far as the
farming population is concerned. It's twice as much as they ever pay for a
reserved seat in the circus, and four times as much as a simple admission.
I'm afraid, Mrs. Makely, you're going to be very few, though fit."
"Well, I've thought it all over, and I'm going to put the tickets at one
"Very good. Have you caught your hare?"
"No, I haven't yet. And I want you to help me catch him. What do you think
is the best way to go about it?"
The banker said he would leave us to the discussion of that question, but
Mrs. Makely could count upon him in everything if she could only get the
man to talk. At the end of our conference we decided to interview the
I shall always be ashamed of the way that woman wheedled the Altrurian,
when we found him the next morning, walking up and down the piazza, before
breakfast--that is, it was before our breakfast; when we asked him to go
in with us, he said he had just had his breakfast, and was waiting for
Reuben Camp, who had promised to take him up as he passed with a load of
hay for one of the hotels in the village.
"Ah, that reminds me, Mr. Homos," the unscrupulous woman began on him at
once. "We want to interest you in a little movement we're getting up for
the Union Chapel in the village. You know it's the church where all the
different sects have their services; alternately. Of course, it's rather
an original way of doing, but there is sense in it where the people are
too poor to go into debt for different churches, and--"
"It's admirable!" said the Altrurian. "I have heard about it from the
Camps. It is an emblem of the unity which ought to prevail among
Christians of all professions. How can I help you, Mrs. Makely?"
"I knew you would approve of it!" she exulted. "Well, it's simply this:
The poor little place has got so shabby that _I'm_ almost ashamed to be
seen going into it, for one; and want to raise money enough to give it a
new coat of paint outside and put on some kind of pretty paper, of an
ecclesiastical pattern, on the inside. I declare, those staring white
walls, with the cracks in the plastering zigzagging every _which_ way,
distract me so that I can't put my mind on the sermon. Don't you think
that paper, say of a Gothic design, would be a great improvement? I'm sure
it would; and it's Mr. Twelvemough's idea, too."
I learned this fact now for the first time; but, with Mrs. Makely's
warning eye upon me, I could not say so, and I made what sounded to me
like a Gothic murmur of acquiescence. It sufficed for Mrs. Makely's
purpose, at any rate, and she went on, without giving the Altrurian a
chance to say what he thought the educational effect of wall-paper would
"Well, the long and short of it is that we want you to make this money for
us, Mr. Homos."
"I?" He started in a kind of horror. "My dear lady, I never made any money
in my life. I should think it _wrong_ to make money."
"In Altruria, yes. We all know how it is in your delightful country, and I
assure you that no one could respect your conscientious scruples more than
I do. But you must remember that you are in America now. In America you
have to make money, or else--get left. And then you must consider the
object, and all the good you can do, indirectly, by a little Talk on
He answered, blandly: "A little Talk on Altruria? How in the world should
I get money by that?"
She was only too eager to explain, and she did it with so much volubility
and at such great length that I, who am good for nothing till I have had
my cup of coffee in the morning, almost perished of an elucidation which
the Altrurian bore with the sweetest patience.
When she gave him a chance to answer, at last, he said: "I shall be very
happy to do what you wish, madam."
"_Will_ you?" she screamed. "Oh, I'm so glad! You _have_ been so slippery
about Altruria, you know, that I expected nothing but a point-blank
refusal. Of course, I knew you would be kind about it. Oh, I can hardly
believe my senses! You can't think what a dear you are." I knew she had
got that word from some English people who had been in the hotel; and she
was working it rather wildly, but it was not my business to check her.
"Well, then, all you have got to do is to leave the whole thing to me, and
not bother about it a bit till I send and tell you we are ready to listen.
There comes Reuben, with his ox-team. Thank you so much, Mr. Homos. No one
need be ashamed to enter the house of God"--she said Gawd, in an access of
piety--"after we get that paint and paper on it; and we shall have them on
before two Sabbaths have passed over it."
She wrung the Altrurian's hand; I was only afraid she was going to kiss
"There is but one stipulation I should like to make," he began.
"Oh, a thousand," she cut in.
"And that is, there shall be no exclusion from my lecture on account of
occupation or condition. That is a thing that I can in no wise
countenance, even in America; it is far more abhorrent to me even than
money-making, though they are each a part and parcel of the other."
"I thought it was that," she retorted, joyously. "And I can assure you,
Mr. Homos, there shall be nothing of that kind. Every one--I don't care
who it is or what they do--shall hear you who buys a ticket. Now, will
"Perfectly," said the Altrurian, and he let her wring his hand again.
She pushed hers through my arm as we started for the dining-room, and
leaned over to whisper jubilantly: "That will fix it. He will see how much
his precious lower classes care for Altruria if they have to pay a dollar
apiece to hear about it. And I shall keep faith with him to the letter."
I could not feel that she would keep it in the spirit; but I could only
groan inwardly and chuckle outwardly at the woman's depravity.
It seemed to me, though I could not approve of it, a capital joke, and so
it seemed to all the members of the little group whom I had made
especially acquainted with the Altrurian. It is true that the minister was
somewhat troubled with the moral question, which did not leave me wholly
at peace; and the banker affected to find a question of taste involved,
which he said he must let me settle, however, as the man's host; if I
could stand it, he could. No one said anything against the plan to Mrs.
Makely, and this energetic woman made us take two tickets apiece, as soon
as she got them printed, over in the village. She got little hand-bills
printed, and had them scattered about through the neighborhood, at all the
hotels, boarding-houses, and summer cottages, to give notice of the time
and place of the talk on Altruria. She fixed this for the following
Saturday afternoon, in our hotel parlor; she had it in the afternoon so as
not to interfere with the hop in the evening; she put tickets on sale at
the principal houses and at the village drug-store, and she made me go
about with her and help her sell them at some of the cottages in person.
I must say I found this extremely distasteful, especially where the people
were not very willing to buy, and she had to urge them. They all admitted
the excellence of the object, but they were not so sure about the means.
At several places the ladies asked who was this Mr. Homos, anyway; and how
did she know he was really from Altruria? He might be an impostor.
Then Mrs. Makely would put me forward, and I would be obliged to give such
account of him as I could, and to explain just how and why he came to be
my guest; with the cumulative effect of bringing back all the misgivings
which I had myself felt at the outset concerning him, and which I had
dismissed as too fantastic.
The tickets went off rather slowly, even in our own hotel; people thought
them too dear; and some, as soon as they knew the price, said frankly they
had heard enough about Altruria already, and were sick of the whole thing.
Mrs. Makely said this was quite what she had expected of those people;
that they were horrid and stingy and vulgar; and she should see what face
they would have to ask her to take tickets when _they_ were trying to get
up something. She began to be vexed with herself, she confessed, at the
joke she was playing on Mr. Homos, and I noticed that she put herself
rather defiantly _en evidence_ in his company whenever she could in the
presence of these reluctant ladies. She told me she had not the courage to
ask the clerk how many of the tickets he had sold out of those she had
left at the desk.
One morning, the third or fourth, as I was going in to breakfast with her,
the head-waiter stopped her as he opened the door, and asked modestly if
she could spare him a few tickets, for he thought he could sell some. To
my amazement the unprincipled creature said: "Why, certainly. How many?"
and instantly took a package out of her pocket, where she seemed always to
have them. He asked, Would twenty be more than she could spare? and she
answered: "Not at all. Here are twenty-five." and bestowed the whole
package upon him.
That afternoon Reuben Camp came lounging up toward us, where I sat with
her on the corner of the piazza, and said that if she would like to let
him try his luck with some tickets for the Talk he would see what he could
"You can have all you want, Reuben," she said, "and I hope you'll have
better luck than I have. I'm perfectly disgusted with people."
She fished several packages out of her pocket this time, and he asked: "Do
you mean that I can have them all?"
"Every one, and a band of music into the bargain," she answered,
recklessly. But she seemed a little daunted when he quietly took them.
"You know there are a hundred here?"
"Yes, I should like to see what I can do among the natives. Then there is
a construction train over at the junction, and I know a lot of the
fellows. I guess some of 'em would like to come."
"The tickets are a dollar each, you know," she suggested.
"That's all right," said Camp. "Well, good-afternoon."
Mrs. Makely turned to me with a kind of gasp as he shambled away. "I don't
know about that."
"About having the whole crew of a construction train at the Talk? I dare
say it won't be pleasant to the ladies who have bought tickets."
"_Oh_!" said Mrs. Makely, with astonishing contempt, "I don't care what
_they_ think. But Reuben has got all my tickets, and suppose he keeps them
so long that I won't have time to sell any, and then throws them back on
my hands? _I_ know!" she added, joyously. "I can go around now and tell
people that my tickets are all gone; and I'll go instantly and have the
clerk hold all he has left at a premium."
She came back looking rather blank.
"He hasn't got a single one left. He says an old native came in this
morning and took every last one of them--he doesn't remember just how
many. I believe they're going to speculate on them; and if Reuben Camp
serves me a trick like that--Why," she broke off, "I believe I'll
speculate on them myself. I should like to know why I shouldn't. Oh, I
should just _like_ to make some of those creatures pay double, or treble,
for the chances they've refused. Ah, Mrs. Bulkham," she called out to a
lady who was coming down the veranda toward us, "you'll be glad to know
I've got rid of all my tickets. _Such_ a relief!"
"You _have_?" Mrs. Bulkham retorted.
"I thought," said Mrs. Bulkham, "that you understood I wanted one for my
daughter and myself, if she came."
"I certainly didn't," said Mrs. Makely, with a wink of concentrated
wickedness at me. "But, if you do, you will have to say so now, without
any ifs or ands about it; and if any of the tickets come back--I let
friends have a few on sale--I will give you two."
"Well, I do," said Mrs. Bulkham, after a moment.
"Very well; it will be five dollars for the two. I feel bound to get all I
can for the cause. Shall I put your name down?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Bulkham, rather crossly; but Mrs. Makely inscribed her
name on her tablets with a radiant amiability, which suffered no eclipse
when, within the next fifteen minutes, a dozen other ladies hurried up and
bought in at the same rate.
I could not stand it, and I got up to go away, feeling extremely
_particeps criminis_. Mrs. Makely seemed to have a conscience as light as
"If Reuben Camp or the head-waiter don't bring back some of those tickets,
I don't know what I shall do. I shall have to put chairs into the aisles
and charge five dollars apiece for as many people as I can crowd in there.
I never knew anything so perfectly providential."
"I envy you the ability to see it in that light, Mrs. Makely," I said,
faint at heart. "Suppose Camp crowds the place full of his trainmen, how
will the ladies that you've sold tickets to at five dollars apiece like
"Pooh! What do I care how they like it! Horrid things! And for repairs on
the house of Gawd, it's the same as being in church, where everybody is
The time passed. Mrs. Makely sold chances to all the ladies in the house;
on Friday night Reuben Camp brought her a hundred dollars; the head-waiter
had already paid in twenty-five. "I didn't dare to ask them if they
speculated on them," she confided to me. "Do you suppose they would have
They had secured the large parlor of the hotel, where the young people
danced in the evening, and where entertainments were held, of the sort
usually given in summer hotels; we had already had a dramatic reading, a
time with the phonograph, an exhibition of necromancy, a concert by a
college glee club, and I do not know what else. The room would hold
perhaps two hundred people, if they were closely seated, and, by her own
showing, Mrs. Makely had sold above two hundred and fifty tickets and
chances. All Saturday forenoon she consoled herself with the belief that a
great many people at the other hotels and cottages had bought seats
merely to aid the cause, and would not really come; she estimated that at
least fifty would stay away; but, if Reuben Camp had sold his tickets
among the natives, we might expect every one of them to come and get his
money's worth; she did not dare to ask the head-waiter how he had got rid
of his twenty-five tickets.
The hour set for the Talk to begin was three o'clock, so that people could
have their naps comfortably over, after the one o'clock dinner, and be
just in the right frame of mind for listening. But long before the
appointed time the people who dine at twelve, and never take an afternoon
nap, began to arrive, on foot, in farm-wagons, smart buggies, mud-crusted
carryalls, and all manner of ramshackle vehicles. They arrived as if
coming to a circus, old husbands and wives, young couples and their
children, pretty girls and their fellows, and hitched their horses to the
tails of their wagons, and began to make a picnic lunch in the shadow of
the grove lying between the hotel and the station. About two we heard the
snorting of a locomotive at a time when no train was due, and a
construction train came in view, with the men waving their handkerchiefs
from the windows, and apparently ready for all the fun there was to be in
the thing. Some of them had a small flag in each hand, the American Stars
and Stripes and the white flag of Altruria, in compliment to my guest, I
suppose. A good many of the farmers came over to the hotel to buy tickets,
which they said they expected to get after they came, and Mrs. Makely was
obliged to pacify them with all sorts of lying promises. From moment to
moment she was in consultation with the landlord, who decided to throw
open the dining-room, which connected with the parlor, so as to allow the
help and the neighbors to hear without incommoding the hotel guests. She
said that this took a great burden off her mind, and that now she should
feel perfectly easy, for now no one could complain about being mixed up
with the servants and the natives, and yet every one could hear perfectly.
She could not rest until she had sent for Homos and told him of this
admirable arrangement. I did not know whether to be glad or not when he
instantly told her that, if there was to be any such separation of his
auditors, in recognition of our class distinctions, he must refuse to
speak at all.
"Then what in the world are we to do?" she wailed out, and the tears came
into her eyes.
"Have you got the money for all your tickets?" he asked, with a sort of
disgust for the whole transaction in his tone.
"Yes, and more, too. I don't believe there's a soul, in the hotel or out
of it, that hasn't paid at least a dollar to hear you; and that makes it
so very embarrassing. Oh, _dear_ Mr. Homos! You won't be so implacably
high-principled as all that! Think that you are doing it for the house of
The woman made me sick.
"Then no one," said the Altrurian, "can feel aggrieved, or unfairly used,
if I say what I have to say in the open air, where all can listen equally,
without any manner of preference or distinction. We will go up to the edge
of the grove overlooking the tennis-court, and hold our meeting there, as
the Altrurian meetings are always held, with the sky for a roof, and with
no walls but the horizon."
"The very thing!" cried Mrs. Makely. "Who would ever have thought you were
so practical, Mr. Homos? I don't believe you're an Altrurian, after all; I
believe you are an American in disguise."
The Altrurian turned away, without making any response to this flattering
attribution of our nationality to him; but Mrs. Makely had not waited for
any. She had flown off, and I next saw her attacking the landlord, with
such apparent success that he slapped himself on the leg and vanished, and
immediately the porters and bell-boys and all the men-servants began
carrying out chairs to the tennis-court, which was already well set round
with benches. In a little while the whole space was covered, and settees
were placed well up the ground toward the grove.
By half-past two the guests of the hotel came out and took the best seats,
as by right, and the different tallyhoes and mountain wagons began to
arrive from the other hotels, with their silly hotel cries, and their gay
groups dismounted and dispersed themselves over the tennis-court until all
the chairs were taken. It was fine to see how the natives and the trainmen
and the hotel servants, with an instinctive perception of the proprieties,
yielded these places to their superiors, and, after the summer folks were
all seated, scattered themselves on the grass and the pine-needles about
the border of the grove. I should have liked to instance the fact to the
Altrurian, as a proof that this sort of subordination was a part of human
nature, and that a principle which pervaded our civilization, after the
democratic training of our whole national life, must be divinely
implanted. But there was no opportunity for me to speak with him after the
fact had accomplished itself, for by this time he had taken his place in
front of a little clump of low pines and was waiting for the assembly to
quiet itself before he began to speak. I do not think there could have
been less than five hundred present, and the scene had that accidental
picturesqueness which results from the grouping of all sorts of faces and
costumes. Many of our ladies had pretty hats and brilliant parasols, but I
must say that the soberer tone of some of the old farm-wives' brown
calicoes and outdated bonnets contributed to enrich the coloring, and
there was a certain gayety in the sunny glisten of the men's straw hats
everywhere that was very good.
The sky overhead was absolutely stainless, and the light of the cool
afternoon sun streamed upon the slopes of the solemn mountains to the
east. The tall pines in the background blackened themselves against the
horizon; nearer they showed more and more decidedly their bluish green,
and the yellow of the newly fallen needles painted their aisles deep into
the airy shadows.
A little wind stirred their tops, and for a moment, just before the
Altrurian began to speak, drew from them an organ-tone that melted
delicately away as his powerful voice rose.
"I could not give you a clear account of the present state of things in my
country," the Altrurian began, "without first telling you something of our
conditions before the time of our Evolution. It seems to be the law of all
life that nothing can come to fruition without dying and seeming to make
an end. It must be sown in corruption before it can be raised in
incorruption. The truth itself must perish to our senses before it can
live to our souls; the Son of Man must suffer upon the cross before we can
know the Son, of God.
"It was so with His message to the world, which we received in the old
time as an ideal realized by the earliest Christians, who loved one
another and who had all things common. The apostle cast away upon our
heathen coasts won us with the story of this first Christian republic, and
he established a commonwealth of peace and good-will among us in its
likeness. That commonwealth perished, just as its prototype perished, or
seemed to perish; and long ages of civic and economic warfare succeeded,
when every man's hand was against his neighbor, and might was the rule
that got itself called right. Religion ceased to be the hope of this
world, and became the vague promise of the next. We descended into the
valley of the shadow, and dwelt amid chaos for ages before we groped again
into the light.
"The first glimmerings were few and indistinct, but men formed themselves
about the luminous points here and there, and, when these broke and
dispersed into lesser gleams, still men formed themselves about each of
them. There arose a system of things better, indeed, than that darkness,
but full of war and lust and greed, in which the weak rendered homage to
the strong, and served them in the field and in the camp, and the strong
in turn gave the weak protection against the other strong. It was a juggle
in which the weak did not see that their safety was, after all, from
themselves; but it was an image of peace, however false and fitful, and it
endured for a time. It endured for a limited time, if we measure by the
life of the race; it endured for an unlimited time if we measure by the
lives of the men who were born and died while it endured.
"But that disorder, cruel and fierce and stupid, which endured because it
sometimes masked itself as order, did at last pass away. Here and there
one of the strong overpowered the rest; then the strong became fewer and
fewer, and in their turn they all yielded to a supreme lord, and
throughout the land there was one rule, as it was called then, or one
misrule, as we should call it now. This rule, or this misrule, continued
for ages more; and again, in the immortality of the race, men toiled and
struggled, and died without the hope of better things.
"Then the time came when the long nightmare was burst with the vision of a
future in which all men were the law, and not one man, or any less number
of men than all.
"The poor dumb beast of humanity rose, and the throne tumbled, and the
sceptre was broken, and the crown rolled away into that darkness of the
past. We thought that heaven had descended to us, and that liberty,
equality, and fraternity were ours. We could not see what should again
alienate us from one another, or how one brother could again oppress
another. With a free field and no favor we believed we should prosper on
together, and there would be peace and plenty for all. We had the republic
again after so many ages now, and the republic, as we knew it in our dim
annals, was brotherhood and universal happiness. All but a very few, who
prophesied evil of our lawless freedom, were wrapped in a delirium of
hope. Men's minds and men's hands were suddenly released to an activity
unheard of before. Invention followed invention; our rivers and seas
became the warp of commerce where the steam-sped shuttles carried the woof
of enterprise to and fro with tireless celerity; machines to save labor
multiplied themselves as if they had been procreative forces, and wares of
every sort were produced with incredible swiftness and cheapness. Money
seemed to flow from the ground; vast fortunes 'rose like an exhalation,'
as your Milton says.
"At first we did not know that they were the breath of the nethermost pits
of hell, and that the love of money, which was becoming universal with us,
was filling the earth with the hate of men. It was long before we came to
realize that in the depths of our steamships were those who fed the fires
with their lives, and that our mines from which we dug our wealth were the
graves of those who had died to the free light and air, without finding
the rest of death. We did not see that the machines for saving labor were
monsters that devoured women and children, and wasted men at the bidding
of the power which no man must touch.
"That is, we thought we must not touch it, for it called itself prosperity
and wealth and the public good, and it said that it gave bread, and it
impudently bade the toiling myriads consider what would become of them if
it took away their means of wearing themselves out in its service. It
demanded of the state absolute immunity and absolute impunity, the right
to do its will wherever and however it would, without question from the
people who were the final law. It had its way, and under its rule we
became the richest people under the sun. The Accumulation, as we called
this power, because we feared to call it by its true name, rewarded its
own with gains of twenty, of a hundred, of a thousand per cent., and to
satisfy its need, to produce the labor that operated its machines, there
came into existence a hapless race of men who bred their kind for its
service, and whose little ones were its prey almost from their cradles.
Then the infamy became too great, and the law, the voice of the people, so
long guiltily silent, was lifted in behalf of those who had no helper. The
Accumulation came under control for the first time, and could no longer
work its slaves twenty hours a day amid perils to life and limb from its
machinery and in conditions that forbade them decency and morality. The
time of a hundred and a thousand per cent. passed; but still the
Accumulation demanded immunity and impunity, and, in spite of its
conviction of the enormities it had practised, it declared itself the only
means of civilization and progress. It began to give out that it was
timid, though its history was full of the boldest frauds and crimes, and
it threatened to withdraw itself if it were ruled or even crossed; and
again it had its way, and we seemed to prosper more and more. The land was
filled with cities where the rich flaunted their splendor in palaces, and
the poor swarmed in squalid tenements. The country was drained of its life
and force, to feed the centres of commerce and industry. The whole land
was bound together with a network of iron roads that linked the factories
and founderies to the fields and mines, and blasted the landscape with the
enterprise that spoiled the lives of men.
"Then, all at once, when its work seemed perfect and its dominion sure,
the Accumulation was stricken with consciousness of the lie always at its
heart. It had hitherto cried out for a free field and no favor, for
unrestricted competition; but, in truth, it had never prospered except as
a monopoly. Whenever and wherever competition had play there had been
nothing but disaster to the rival enterprises, till one rose over the
rest. Then there was prosperity for that one.
"The Accumulation began to act upon its new consciousness. The iron roads
united; the warring industries made peace, each kind under a single
leadership. Monopoly, not competition, was seen to be the beneficent means
of distributing the favors and blessings of the Accumulation to mankind.
But, as before, there was alternately a glut and dearth of things, and
it often happened that when starving men went ragged through the streets
the storehouses were piled full of rotting harvests that the farmers
toiled from dawn till dusk to grow, and the warehouses fed the moth with
the stuffs that the operative had woven his life into at his loom. Then
followed, with a blind and mad succession, a time of famine, when money
could not buy the super-abundance that vanished, none knew how or why.
"The money itself vanished from time to time, and disappeared into the
vaults of the Accumulation, for no better reason than that for which it
poured itself out at other times. Our theory was that the people--that is
to say, the government of the people--made the people's money, but, as a
matter of fact, the Accumulation made it and controlled it and juggled
with it; and now you saw it, and now you did not see it. The government
made gold coins, but the people had nothing but the paper money that the
Accumulation made. But whether there was scarcity or plenty, the failures
went on with a continuous ruin that nothing could check, while our larger
economic life proceeded in a series of violent shocks, which we called
financial panics, followed by long periods of exhaustion and recuperation.
"There was no law in our economy, but as the Accumulation had never cared
for the nature of law, it did not trouble itself for its name in our order
of things. It had always bought the law it needed for its own use, first
through the voter at the polls in the more primitive days, and then, as
civilization advanced, in the legislatures and the courts. But the
corruption even of these methods was far surpassed when the era of
consolidation came, and the necessity for statutes and verdicts and
decisions became more stringent. Then we had such a burlesque of--"
"Look here!" a sharp, nasal voice snarled across the rich, full pipe of
the Altrurian, and we all instantly looked there. The voice came from an
old farmer, holding himself stiffly up, with his hands in his pockets and
his lean frame bent toward the speaker. "When are you goin' to get to
Altrury? We know all about Ameriky."
He sat down again, and it was a moment before the crowd caught on. Then a
yell of delight and a roar of volleyed laughter went up from the lower
classes, in which, I am sorry to say, my friend the banker joined, so far
as the laughter was concerned. "Good! That's it! First-rate!" came from a
hundred vulgar throats.
"Isn't it a perfect shame?" Mrs. Makely demanded. "I think some of you
gentlemen ought to say something. What will Mr. Homos think of our
civilization if we let such interruptions go unrebuked?"
She was sitting between the banker and myself, and her indignation made
him laugh more and more. "Oh, it serves him right," he said. "Don't you
see that he is hoist with his own petard? Let him alone. He's in the hands
of his friends."
The Altrurian waited for the tumult to die away, and then he said, gently:
"I don't understand."
The old farmer jerked himself to his feet again. "It's like this: I paid
my dolla' to hear about a country where there wa'n't no co'perations nor
no monop'lies nor no buyin' up cou'ts; and I ain't agoin' to have no
allegory shoved down my throat, instead of a true history, noways. I know
all about how it is _here_. Fi'st, run their line through your backya'd,
and then kill off your cattle, and keep kerryin' on it up from cou't to
cou't, till there ain't hide or hair on 'em left--"
"Oh, set down, set down! Let the man go on! He'll make it all right with
you," one of the construction gang called out; but the farmer stood his
ground, and I could hear him through the laughing and shouting keep saying
something, from time to time, about not wanting to pay no dolla' for no
talk about co'perations and monop'lies that we had right under our own
noses the whole while, and, you might say, in your very bread-troughs;
till, at last, I saw Reuben Camp make his way toward him, and, after an
energetic expostulation, turn to leave him again.
Then he faltered out, "I guess it's all right," and dropped out of sight
in the group he had risen from. I fancied his wife scolding him there, and
all but shaking him in public.
"I should be very sorry," the Altrurian proceeded, "to have any one
believe that I have not been giving you a _bona fide_ account of
conditions in my country before the Evolution, when we first took the name
of Altruria in our great, peaceful campaign against the Accumulation. As
for offering you any allegory or travesty of your own conditions, I will
simply say that I do not know them well enough to do so intelligently.
But, whatever they are, God forbid that the likeness which you seem to
recognize should ever go so far as the desperate state of things which we
finally reached. I will not trouble you with details; in fact, I have been
afraid that I had already treated of our affairs too abstractly; but,
since your own experience furnishes you the means of seizing my meaning, I
will go on as before.
"You will understand me when I explain that the Accumulation had not
erected itself into the sovereignty with us unopposed. The working-men,
who suffered most from its oppression had early begun to band themselves
against it, with the instinct of self-preservation, first trade by trade
and art by art, and then in congresses and federations of the trades and
arts, until finally they enrolled themselves in one vast union, which
included all the working-men, whom their necessity or their interest did
not leave on the side of the Accumulation. This beneficent and generous
association of the weak for the sake of the weakest did not accomplish
itself fully till the baleful instinct of the Accumulation had reduced the
monopolies to one vast monopoly, till the stronger had devoured the weaker
among its members, and the supreme agent stood at the head of our affairs,
in everything but name, our imperial ruler. We had hugged so long the
delusion of each man for himself that we had suffered all realty to be
taken from us. The Accumulation owned the land as well as the mines under
it and the shops over it; the Accumulation owned the seas and the ships
that sailed the seas, and the fish that swam in their depths; it owned
transportation and distribution, and the wares and products that were to
be carried to and fro; and, by a logic irresistible and inexorable, the
Accumulation _was_, and we were _not_.
"But the Accumulation, too, had forgotten something. It had found it so
easy to buy legislatures and courts that it did not trouble itself about
the polls. It left us the suffrage, and let us amuse ourselves with the
periodical election of the political clay images which it manipulated and
moulded to any shape and effect at its pleasure. The Accumulation knew
that it was the sovereignty, whatever figure-head we called president or
governor or mayor: we had other names for these officials, but I use their
analogues for the sake of clearness, and I hope my good friend over there
will not think I am still talking about America."
"No," the old farmer called back, without rising, "we hain't got there
"No hurry," said a trainman. "All in good time. Go on!" he called to the
The Altrurian resumed:
"There had been, from the beginning, an almost ceaseless struggle between
the Accumulation and the proletariate. The Accumulation always said that
it was the best friend of the proletariate, and it denounced, through the
press which it controlled, the proletarian leaders who taught that it was
the enemy of the proletariate, and who stirred up strikes and tumults of
all sorts, for higher wages and fewer hours. But the friend of the
proletariate, whenever occasion served, treated the proletariate like a
deadly enemy. In seasons of overproduction, as it was called, it locked
the workmen out or laid them off, and left their families to starve, or
ran light work and claimed the credit of public benefactors for running at
all. It sought every chance to reduce wages; it had laws passed to forbid
or cripple the workmen in their strikes; and the judges convicted them of
conspiracy, and wrested the statutes to their hurt, in cases where there
had been no thought of embarrassing them, even among the legislators. God
forbid that you should ever come to such a pass in America; but, if you
ever should, God grant that you may find your way out as simply as we did
at last, when freedom had perished in everything but name among us, and
justice had become a mockery.
"The Accumulation had advanced so smoothly, so lightly, in all its steps
to the supreme power, and had at last so thoroughly quelled the uprisings
of the proletariate, that it forgot one thing: it forgot the despised and
neglected suffrage. The ballot, because it had been so easy to annul its
effect, had been left in the people's hands; and when, at last, the
leaders of the proletariate ceased to counsel strikes, or any form of
resistance to the Accumulation that could be tormented into the likeness
of insurrection against the government, and began to urge them to attack
it in the political way, the deluge that swept the Accumulation out of
existence came trickling and creeping over the land. It appeared first in
the country, a spring from the ground; then it gathered head in the
villages; then it swelled to a torrent in the cities. I cannot stay to
trace its course; but suddenly, one day, when the Accumulation's abuse of
a certain power became too gross, it was voted out of that power. You will
perhaps be interested to know that it was with the telegraphs that the
rebellion against the Accumulation began, and the government was forced,
by the overwhelming majority which the proletariate sent to our
parliament, to assume a function which the Accumulation had impudently
usurped. Then the transportation of smaller and more perishable wares--"
"Yes," a voice called--"express business. Go on!"
"Was legislated a function of the post-office," the Altrurian went on.
"Then all transportation was taken into the hands of the political
government, which had always been accused of great corruption in its
administration, but which showed itself immaculately pure compared with
the Accumulation. The common ownership of mines necessarily followed, with
an allotment of lands to any one who wished to live by tilling the land;
but not a foot of the land was remitted to private hands for the purposes
of selfish pleasure or the exclusion of any other from the landscape. As
all business had been gathered into the grasp of the Accumulation, and the
manufacture of everything they used and the production of everything that
they ate was in the control of the Accumulation, its transfer to the
government was the work of a single clause in the statute.
"The Accumulation, which had treated the first menaces of resistance with
contempt, awoke to its peril too late. When it turned to wrest the
suffrage from the proletariate, at the first election where it attempted
to make head against them, it was simply snowed under, as your picturesque
phrase is. The Accumulation had no voters, except the few men at its head
and the creatures devoted to it by interest and ignorance. It seemed, at
one moment, as if it would offer an armed resistance to the popular will,
but, happily, that moment of madness passed. Our Evolution was
accomplished without a drop of bloodshed, and the first great political
brotherhood, the commonwealth of Altruria, was founded.
"I wish that I had time to go into a study of some of the curious phases
of the transformation from a civility in which the people lived _upon_
each other to one in which they lived _for_ each other. There is a famous
passage in the inaugural message of our first Altrurian president which
compares the new civic consciousness with that of a disembodied spirit
released to the life beyond this and freed from all the selfish cares
and greeds of the flesh. But perhaps I shall give a sufficiently clear
notion of the triumph of the change among us when I say that within half
a decade after the fall of the old plutocratic oligarchy one of the chief
directors of the Accumulation publicly expressed his gratitude to God
that the Accumulation had passed away forever. You will realize the
importance of such an expression in recalling the declarations some of
your slave-holders have made since the Civil War, that they would not have
slavery restored for any earthly consideration.
"But now, after this preamble, which has been so much longer than I meant
it to be, how shall I give you a sufficiently just conception of the
existing Altruria, the actual state from which I come?"
"Yes," came the nasal of the old farmer again, "that's what we are here
fur. I wouldn't give a copper to know all you went through beforehand.
It's too dumn like what we have been through ourselves, as fur as heard
A shout of laughter went up from most of the crowd, but the Altrurian did
not seem to see any fun in it.
"Well," he resumed, "I will tell you, as well as I can, what Altruria is
like; but, in the first place, you will have to cast out of your minds all
images of civilization with which your experience has filled them. For a
time the shell of the old Accumulation remained for our social habitation,
and we dwelt in the old competitive and monopolistic forms after the life
had gone out of them--that is, we continued to live in populous cities,
and we toiled to heap up riches for the moth to corrupt, and we slaved on
in making utterly useless things, merely because we had the habit of
making them to sell. For a while we made the old sham things, which
pretended to be useful things and were worse than the confessedly useless
things. I will give you an illustration from the trades, which you will
all understand. The proletariate, in the competitive and monopolistic
time, used to make a kind of shoes for the proletariate, or the women of
the proletariate, which looked like fine shoes of the best quality. It
took just as much work to make these shoes as to make the best fine shoes;
but they were shams through and through. They wore out in a week, and the
people called them, because they were bought fresh for every Sunday--"
"Sat'd'y-night shoes," screamed the old farmer. "I know 'em. My gals buy
'em. Half-dolla' a pai', and not wo'th the money."
"Well," said the Altrurian, "they were a cheat and a lie in every way,
and under the new system it was not possible, when public attention
was called to the fact, to continue the falsehood they embodied. As soon
as the Saturday-night shoes realized itself to the public conscience,
an investigation began, and it was found that the principle of the
Saturday-night shoe underlay half our industries and made half the work
that was done.
"Then an immense reform took place. We renounced, in the most solemn
convocation of the whole economy, the principle of the Saturday-night
shoe, and those who had spent their lives in producing sham shoes--"
"Yes," said the professor, rising from his seat near us and addressing the
speaker, "I shall be very glad to know what became of the worthy and
industrious operatives who were thrown out of employment by this explosion
of economic virtue."
"Why," the Altrurian replied, "they were set to work making honest shoes;
and, as it took no more time to make a pair of honest shoes which lasted a
year than it took to make a pair of dishonest shoes that lasted a week,
the amount of labor in shoemaking was at once enormously reduced."
"Yes," said the professor, "I understand that. What became of the
"They joined the vast army of other laborers who had been employed,
directly or indirectly, in the fabrication of fraudulent wares. These
shoemakers--lasters, button-holers, binders, and so on--no longer wore
themselves out over their machines. One hour sufficed where twelve hours
were needed before, and the operatives were released to the happy labor of
the fields, where no one with us toils killingly, from dawn till dusk, but
does only as much work as is needed to keep the body in health. We had a
continent to refine and beautify; we had climates to change and seasons to
modify, a whole system of meteorology to readjust, and the public works
gave employment to the multitudes emancipated from the soul-destroying
service of shams. I can scarcely give you a notion of the vastness of the
improvements undertaken and carried through, or still in process of
accomplishment. But a single one will, perhaps, afford a sufficient
illustration. Our southeast coast, from its vicinity to the pole, had
always suffered from a winter of antarctic rigor; but our first president
conceived the plan of cutting off a peninsula, which kept the equatorial
current from making in to our shores; and the work was begun in his term,
though the entire strip, twenty miles in width and ninety-three in length,
was not severed before the end of the first Altrurian decade. Since that
time the whole region of our southeastern coast has enjoyed the climate of
your Mediterranean countries.
"It was not only the makers of fraudulent things who were released to
these useful and wholesome labors, but those who had spent themselves in
contriving ugly and stupid and foolish things were set free to the public
employment. The multitude of these monstrosities and iniquities was as
great as that of the shams--"
Here I lost some words, for the professor leaned over and whispered to me:
"He has got _that_ out of William Morris. Depend upon it, the man is a
humbug. He is not an Altrurian at all."
I confess that my heart misgave me; but I signalled the professor to be
silent, and again gave the Altrurian--if he was an Altrurian--my whole
"And so," the Altrurian continued, "when the labor of the community was
emancipated from the bondage of the false to the free service of the true,
it was also, by an inevitable implication, dedicated to beauty and rescued
from the old slavery to the ugly, the stupid, and the trivial. The thing
that was honest and useful became, by the operation of a natural law, a
"Once we had not time enough to make things beautiful, we were so
overworked in making false and hideous things to sell; but now we had all
the time there was, and a glad emulation arose among the trades and
occupations to the end that everything done should be done finely as well
as done honestly. The artist, the man of genius, who worked from the love
of his work, became the normal man, and in the measure of his ability and
of his calling each wrought in the spirit of the artist. We got back the
pleasure of doing a thing beautifully, which was God's primal blessing
upon all His working children, but which we had lost in the horrible days
of our need and greed. There is not a working-man within the sound of my
voice but has known this divine delight, and would gladly know it always
if he only had the time. Well, now we had the time, the Evolution had
given us the time, and in all Altruria there was not a furrow driven or a
swath mown, not a hammer struck on house or on ship, not a stitch sewn or
a stone laid, not a line written or a sheet printed, not a temple raised
or an engine built, but it was done with an eye to beauty as well as to
"As soon as we were freed from the necessity of preying upon one another,
we found that there was no hurry. The good work would wait to be well
done; and one of the earliest effects of the Evolution was the disuse of
the swift trains which had traversed the continent, night and day, that
one man might overreach another, or make haste to undersell his rival, or
seize some advantage of him, or plot some profit to his loss. Nine-tenths
of the railroads, which in the old times had ruinously competed, and then,
in the hands of the Accumulation, had been united to impoverish and
oppress the people, fell into disuse. The commonwealth operated the few
lines that were necessary for the collection of materials and the
distribution of manufactures, and for pleasure travel and the affairs of
state; but the roads that had been built to invest capital, or parallel
other roads, or 'make work,' as it was called, or to develop resources,
or boom localities, were suffered to fall into ruin; the rails were
stripped from the landscape, which they had bound as with shackles, and
the road-beds became highways for the use of kindly neighborhoods, or
nature recovered them wholly and hid the memory of their former abuse in
grass and flowers and wild vines. The ugly towns that they had forced into
being, as Frankenstein was fashioned, from the materials of the charnel,
and that had no life in or from the good of the community, soon tumbled
into decay. The administration used parts of them in the construction of
the villages in which the Altrurians now mostly live; but generally these
towns were built of materials so fraudulent, in form so vile, that it was
judged best to burn them. In this way their sites were at once purified
"We had, of course, a great many large cities under the old egoistic
conditions, which increased and fattened upon the country, and fed their
cancerous life with fresh infusions of its blood. We had several cities of
half a million, and one of more than a million; we had a score of them
with a population of a hundred thousand or more. We were very proud of
them, and vaunted them as a proof of our unparalleled prosperity, though
really they never were anything but congeries of millionaires and the
wretched creatures who served them and supplied them. Of course, there was
everywhere the appearance of enterprise and activity, but it meant final
loss for the great mass of the business men, large and small, and final
gain for the millionaires. These and their parasites dwelt together, the
rich starving the poor and the poor plundering and misgoverning the rich;
and it was the intolerable suffering in the cities that chiefly hastened
the fall of the old Accumulation and the rise of the commonwealth.
"Almost from the moment of the Evolution the competitive and monopolistic
centres of population began to decline. In the clear light of the new
order it was seen that they were not fit dwelling-places for men, either
in the complicated and luxurious palaces where the rich fenced themselves
from their kind, or in the vast tenements, towering height upon height,
ten and twelve stories up, where the swarming poor festered in vice and
sickness and famine. If I were to tell you of the fashion of those cities
of our egoistic epoch, how the construction was one error from the first,
and every correction of an error bred a new defect, I should make you
laugh, I should make you weep. We let them fall to ruin as quickly as they
would, and their sites are still so pestilential, after the lapse of
centuries, that travelers are publicly guarded against them. Ravening
beasts and poisonous reptiles lurk in those abodes of the riches and the
poverty that are no longer known to our life. A part of one of the less
malarial of the old cities, however, is maintained by the commonwealth in
the form of its prosperity, and is studied by antiquarians for the
instruction, and by moralists for the admonition, it affords. A section of
a street is exposed, and you see the foundations of the houses; you see
the filthy drains that belched into the common sewers, trapped and
retrapped to keep the poison gases down; you see the sewers that rolled
their loathsome tides under the streets, amid a tangle of gas-pipes,
steam-pipes, water-pipes, telegraph-wires, electric lighting-wires,
electric motor-wires, and grip-cables--all without a plan, but makeshifts,
expedients, devices, to repair and evade the fundamental mistake of having
any such cities at all.
"There are now no cities in Altruria, in your meaning, but there are
capitals, one for each of the regions of our country and one for the whole
commonwealth. These capitals are for the transaction of public affairs, in
which every citizen of Altruria is schooled, and they are the residences
of the administrative officials, who are alternated every year, from the
highest to the lowest. A public employment with us is of no greater honor
or profit than any other, for with our absolute economic equality there
can be no ambition, and there is no opportunity for one citizen to
outshine another. But as the capitals are the centres of all the arts,
which we consider the chief of our public affairs, they are oftenest
frequented by poets, actors, painters, sculptors, musicians, and
architects. We regard all artists, who are in a sort creators, as the
human type which is likest the divine, and we try to conform our whole
industrial life to the artistic temperament. Even in the labors of the
field and shop, which are obligatory upon all, we study the inspiration of
this temperament, and in the voluntary pursuits we allow it full control.
Each, in these, follows his fancy as to what he shall do, and when he
shall do it, or whether he shall do anything at all. In the capitals are
the universities, theatres, galleries, museums, cathedrals, laboratories
and conservatories, and the appliances of every art and science, as well
as the administration buildings; and beauty as well as use is studied in
every edifice. Our capitals are as clean and quiet and healthful as the
country, and these advantages are secured simply by the elimination of the
horse, an animal which we should be as much surprised to find in the
streets of a town as the plesiosaurus or the pterodactyl. All
transportation in the capitals, whether for pleasure or business, is by
electricity, and swift electrical expresses connect the capital of each
region with the villages which radiate from it to the cardinal points.
These expresses run at the rate of a hundred and fifty miles an hour, and
they enable the artist, the scientist, the literary man, of the remotest
hamlet, to visit the capital (when he is not actually resident there in
some public use) every day, after the hours of the obligatory industries;
or, if he likes, he may remain there a whole week or fortnight, giving six
hours a day instead of three to the obligatories, until the time is made
up. In case of very evident merit, or for the purpose of allowing him to
complete some work requiring continuous application, a vote of the local
agents may release him from the obligatories indefinitely. Generally,
however, our artists prefer not to ask this, but avail themselves of the
stated means we have of allowing them to work at the obligatories, and get
the needed exercise and variety of occupation in the immediate vicinity of
"We do not think it well to connect the hamlets on the different lines of
radiation from the capital, except by the good country roads which
traverse each region in every direction. The villages are mainly inhabited
by those who prefer a rural life; they are farming villages; but in
Altruria it can hardly be said that one man is more a farmer than another.
We do not like to distinguish men by their callings; we do not speak of
the poet This or the shoemaker That, for the poet may very likely be a
shoemaker in the obligatories, and the shoemaker a poet in the
voluntaries. If it can be said that one occupation is honored above
another with us, it is that which we all share, and that is the
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