Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887
Part 1 out of 5
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From 2000 to 1887
by Edward Bellamy
Historical Section Shawmut College, Boston,
December 26, 2000
Living as we do in the closing year of the twentieth century,
enjoying the blessings of a social order at once so simple and
logical that it seems but the triumph of common sense, it is no
doubt difficult for those whose studies have not been largely
historical to realize that the present organization of society is, in
its completeness, less than a century old. No historical fact is,
however, better established than that till nearly the end of the
nineteenth century it was the general belief that the ancient
industrial system, with all its shocking social consequences, was
destined to last, with possibly a little patching, to the end of
time. How strange and wellnigh incredible does it seem that so
prodigious a moral and material transformation as has taken
place since then could have been accomplished in so brief an
interval! The readiness with which men accustom themselves, as
matters of course, to improvements in their condition, which,
when anticipated, seemed to leave nothing more to be desired,
could not be more strikingly illustrated. What reflection could
be better calculated to moderate the enthusiasm of reformers
who count for their reward on the lively gratitude of future ages!
The object of this volume is to assist persons who, while
desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts
between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, are daunted by
the formal aspect of the histories which treat the subject.
Warned by a teacher's experience that learning is accounted a
weariness to the flesh, the author has sought to alleviate the
instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a
romantic narrative, which he would be glad to fancy not wholly
devoid of interest on its own account.
The reader, to whom modern social institutions and their
underlying principles are matters of course, may at times find
Dr. Leete's explanations of them rather trite--but it must be
remembered that to Dr. Leete's guest they were not matters of
course, and that this book is written for the express purpose of
inducing the reader to forget for the nonce that they are so to
him. One word more. The almost universal theme of the writers
and orators who have celebrated this bimillennial epoch has
been the future rather than the past, not the advance that has
been made, but the progress that shall be made, ever onward and
upward, till the race shall achieve its ineffable destiny. This is
well, wholly well, but it seems to me that nowhere can we find
more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development
during the next one thousand years, than by "Looking
Backward" upon the progress of the last one hundred.
That this volume may be so fortunate as to find readers whose
interest in the subject shall incline them to overlook the
deficiencies of the treatment is the hope in which the author
steps aside and leaves Mr. Julian West to speak for himself.
I first saw the light in the city of Boston in the year 1857.
"What!" you say, "eighteen fifty-seven? That is an odd slip. He
means nineteen fifty-seven, of course." I beg pardon, but there is
no mistake. It was about four in the afternoon of December the
26th, one day after Christmas, in the year 1857, not 1957, that I
first breathed the east wind of Boston, which, I assure the reader,
was at that remote period marked by the same penetrating
quality characterizing it in the present year of grace, 2000.
These statements seem so absurd on their face, especially
when I add that I am a young man apparently of about thirty
years of age, that no person can be blamed for refusing to read
another word of what promises to be a mere imposition upon his
credulity. Nevertheless I earnestly assure the reader that no
imposition is intended, and will undertake, if he shall follow me
a few pages, to entirely convince him of this. If I may, then,
provisionally assume, with the pledge of justifying the assumption,
that I know better than the reader when I was born, I will
go on with my narrative. As every schoolboy knows, in the latter
part of the nineteenth century the civilization of to-day, or
anything like it, did not exist, although the elements which were
to develop it were already in ferment. Nothing had, however,
occurred to modify the immemorial division of society into the
four classes, or nations, as they may be more fitly called, since
the differences between them were far greater than those
between any nations nowadays, of the rich and the poor, the
educated and the ignorant. I myself was rich and also educated,
and possessed, therefore, all the elements of happiness enjoyed
by the most fortunate in that age. Living in luxury, and occupied
only with the pursuit of the pleasures and refinements of life, I
derived the means of my support from the labor of others,
rendering no sort of service in return. My parents and grand-
parents had lived in the same way, and I expected that my
descendants, if I had any, would enjoy a like easy existence.
But how could I live without service to the world? you ask.
Why should the world have supported in utter idleness one who
was able to render service? The answer is that my great-grandfather
had accumulated a sum of money on which his descendants
had ever since lived. The sum, you will naturally infer, must
have been very large not to have been exhausted in supporting
three generations in idleness. This, however, was not the fact.
The sum had been originally by no means large. It was, in fact,
much larger now that three generations had been supported
upon it in idleness, than it was at first. This mystery of use
without consumption, of warmth without combustion, seems like
magic, but was merely an ingenious application of the art now
happily lost but carried to great perfection by your ancestors, of
shifting the burden of one's support on the shoulders of others.
The man who had accomplished this, and it was the end all
sought, was said to live on the income of his investments. To
explain at this point how the ancient methods of industry made
this possible would delay us too much. I shall only stop now to
say that interest on investments was a species of tax in perpetuity
upon the product of those engaged in industry which a person
possessing or inheriting money was able to levy. It must not be
supposed that an arrangement which seems so unnatural and
preposterous according to modern notions was never criticized by
your ancestors. It had been the effort of lawgivers and prophets
from the earliest ages to abolish interest, or at least to limit it to
the smallest possible rate. All these efforts had, however, failed,
as they necessarily must so long as the ancient social organizations
prevailed. At the time of which I write, the latter part of
the nineteenth century, governments had generally given up
trying to regulate the subject at all.
By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression
of the way people lived together in those days, and
especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another,
perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then
was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were
harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy
road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though
the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of
drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was
covered with passengers who never got down, even at the
steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and
comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could
enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits
of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great
demand and the competition for them was keen, every one
seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for
himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the
coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the
other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any
time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were
very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were
slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were
instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag
the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It
was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat,
and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their
friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who
But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their
very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the
lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge
that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no
compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished
them? Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed
by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach,
especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it
was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such
times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping
and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who
fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very
distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable
displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the
passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the
rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of
possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their
lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the
crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that
the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of
general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten
over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team,
for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general
overturn in which all would lose their seats.
It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the
spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance
the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach,
and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than
before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither
they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable
that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages,
they would have troubled themselves extremely little about
those who dragged the coach.
I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women
of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are
two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first
place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other
way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at
the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very
radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the
coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always
been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it
could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion
on what was beyond remedy.
The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular
hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally
shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters
who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging
to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn.
This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach
and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The
strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had
but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown
the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its
influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before
them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the
conviction they cherished of the essential difference between
their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute.
The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for
the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical
compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I
can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of,
marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.
In 1887 I came to my thirtieth year. Although still unmarried,
I was engaged to wed Edith Bartlett. She, like myself, rode on
the top of the coach. That is to say, not to encumber ourselves
further with an illustration which has, I hope, served its purpose
of giving the reader some general impression of how we lived
then, her family was wealthy. In that age, when money alone
commanded all that was agreeable and refined in life, it was
enough for a woman to be rich to have suitors; but Edith
Bartlett was beautiful and graceful also.
My lady readers, I am aware, will protest at this. "Handsome
she might have been," I hear them saying, "but graceful never,
in the costumes which were the fashion at that period, when the
head covering was a dizzy structure a foot tall, and the almost
incredible extension of the skirt behind by means of artificial
contrivances more thoroughly dehumanized the form than any
former device of dressmakers. Fancy any one graceful in such a
costume!" The point is certainly well taken, and I can only reply
that while the ladies of the twentieth century are lovely demonstrations
of the effect of appropriate drapery in accenting feminine
graces, my recollection of their great-grandmothers enables
me to maintain that no deformity of costume can wholly
Our marriage only waited on the completion of the house
which I was building for our occupancy in one of the most
desirable parts of the city, that is to say, a part chiefly inhabited
by the rich. For it must be understood that the comparative
desirability of different parts of Boston for residence depended
then, not on natural features, but on the character of the
neighboring population. Each class or nation lived by itself, in
quarters of its own. A rich man living among the poor, an
educated man among the uneducated, was like one living in
isolation among a jealous and alien race. When the house had
been begun, its completion by the winter of 1886 had been
expected. The spring of the following year found it, however, yet
incomplete, and my marriage still a thing of the future. The
cause of a delay calculated to be particularly exasperating to an
ardent lover was a series of strikes, that is to say, concerted
refusals to work on the part of the brick-layers, masons, carpenters,
painters, plumbers, and other trades concerned in house
building. What the specific causes of these strikes were I do not
remember. Strikes had become so common at that period that
people had ceased to inquire into their particular grounds. In
one department of industry or another, they had been nearly
incessant ever since the great business crisis of 1873. In fact it
had come to be the exceptional thing to see any class of laborers
pursue their avocation steadily for more than a few months at a
The reader who observes the dates alluded to will of course
recognize in these disturbances of industry the first and incoherent
phase of the great movement which ended in the establishment
of the modern industrial system with all its social consequences.
This is all so plain in the retrospect that a child can
understand it, but not being prophets, we of that day had no
clear idea what was happening to us. What we did see was that
industrially the country was in a very queer way. The relation
between the workingman and the employer, between labor and
capital, appeared in some unaccountable manner to have become
dislocated. The working classes had quite suddenly and very
generally become infected with a profound discontent with their
condition, and an idea that it could be greatly bettered if they
only knew how to go about it. On every side, with one accord,
they preferred demands for higher pay, shorter hours, better
dwellings, better educational advantages, and a share in the
refinements and luxuries of life, demands which it was impossible
to see the way to granting unless the world were to become a
great deal richer than it then was. Though they knew something
of what they wanted, they knew nothing of how to accomplish
it, and the eager enthusiasm with which they thronged about
any one who seemed likely to give them any light on the subject
lent sudden reputation to many would-be leaders, some of whom
had little enough light to give. However chimerical the aspirations
of the laboring classes might be deemed, the devotion with
which they supported one another in the strikes, which were
their chief weapon, and the sacrifices which they underwent to
carry them out left no doubt of their dead earnestness.
As to the final outcome of the labor troubles, which was the
phrase by which the movement I have described was most
commonly referred to, the opinions of the people of my class
differed according to individual temperament. The sanguine
argued very forcibly that it was in the very nature of things
impossible that the new hopes of the workingmen could be
satisfied, simply because the world had not the wherewithal to
satisfy them. It was only because the masses worked very hard
and lived on short commons that the race did not starve
outright, and no considerable improvement in their condition
was possible while the world, as a whole, remained so poor. It
was not the capitalists whom the laboring men were contending
with, these maintained, but the iron-bound environment of
humanity, and it was merely a question of the thickness of their
skulls when they would discover the fact and make up their
minds to endure what they could not cure.
The less sanguine admitted all this. Of course the workingmen's
aspirations were impossible of fulfillment for natural
reasons, but there were grounds to fear that they would not
discover this fact until they had made a sad mess of society.
They had the votes and the power to do so if they pleased, and
their leaders meant they should. Some of these desponding
observers went so far as to predict an impending social cataclysm.
Humanity, they argued, having climbed to the top round
of the ladder of civilization, was about to take a header into
chaos, after which it would doubtless pick itself up, turn round,
and begin to climb again. Repeated experiences of this sort in
historic and prehistoric times possibly accounted for the
puzzling bumps on the human cranium. Human history, like all
great movements, was cyclical, and returned to the point of
beginning. The idea of indefinite progress in a right line was a
chimera of the imagination, with no analogue in nature. The
parabola of a comet was perhaps a yet better illustration of the
career of humanity. Tending upward and sunward from the
aphelion of barbarism, the race attained the perihelion of civilization
only to plunge downward once more to its nether goal in
the regions of chaos.
This, of course, was an extreme opinion, but I remember
serious men among my acquaintances who, in discussing the
signs of the times, adopted a very similar tone. It was no doubt
the common opinion of thoughtful men that society was
approaching a critical period which might result in great
changes. The labor troubles, their causes, course, and cure, took
lead of all other topics in the public prints, and in serious
The nervous tension of the public mind could not have been
more strikingly illustrated than it was by the alarm resulting
from the talk of a small band of men who called themselves
anarchists, and proposed to terrify the American people into
adopting their ideas by threats of violence, as if a mighty nation
which had but just put down a rebellion of half its own
numbers, in order to maintain its political system, were likely to
adopt a new social system out of fear.
As one of the wealthy, with a large stake in the existing order
of things, I naturally shared the apprehensions of my class. The
particular grievance I had against the working classes at the time
of which I write, on account of the effect of their strikes in
postponing my wedded bliss, no doubt lent a special animosity
to my feeling toward them.
The thirtieth day of May, 1887, fell on a Monday. It was one
of the annual holidays of the nation in the latter third of the
nineteenth century, being set apart under the name of Decoration
Day, for doing honor to the memory of the soldiers of the
North who took part in the war for the preservation of the union
of the States. The survivors of the war, escorted by military and
civic processions and bands of music, were wont on this occasion
to visit the cemeteries and lay wreaths of flowers upon the graves
of their dead comrades, the ceremony being a very solemn and
touching one. The eldest brother of Edith Bartlett had fallen in
the war, and on Decoration Day the family was in the habit of
making a visit to Mount Auburn, where he lay.
I had asked permission to make one of the party, and, on our
return to the city at nightfall, remained to dine with the family
of my betrothed. In the drawing-room, after dinner, I picked up
an evening paper and read of a fresh strike in the building trades,
which would probably still further delay the completion of my
unlucky house. I remember distinctly how exasperated I was at
this, and the objurgations, as forcible as the presence of the
ladies permitted, which I lavished upon workmen in general, and
these strikers in particular. I had abundant sympathy from those
about me, and the remarks made in the desultory conversation
which followed, upon the unprincipled conduct of the labor
agitators, were calculated to make those gentlemen's ears tingle.
It was agreed that affairs were going from bad to worse very fast,
and that there was no telling what we should come to soon.
"The worst of it," I remember Mrs. Bartlett's saying, "is that the
working classes all over the world seem to be going crazy at once.
In Europe it is far worse even than here. I'm sure I should not
dare to live there at all. I asked Mr. Bartlett the other day where
we should emigrate to if all the terrible things took place which
those socialists threaten. He said he did not know any place now
where society could be called stable except Greenland, Patago-
nia, and the Chinese Empire." "Those Chinamen knew what
they were about," somebody added, "when they refused to let in
our western civilization. They knew what it would lead to better
than we did. They saw it was nothing but dynamite in disguise."
After this, I remember drawing Edith apart and trying to
persuade her that it would be better to be married at once
without waiting for the completion of the house, spending the
time in travel till our home was ready for us. She was remarkably
handsome that evening, the mourning costume that she wore in
recognition of the day setting off to great advantage the purity of
her complexion. I can see her even now with my mind's eye just
as she looked that night. When I took my leave she followed me
into the hall and I kissed her good-by as usual. There was no
circumstance out of the common to distinguish this parting
from previous occasions when we had bade each other good-by
for a night or a day. There was absolutely no premonition in my
mind, or I am sure in hers, that this was more than an ordinary
The hour at which I had left my betrothed was a rather early
one for a lover, but the fact was no reflection on my devotion. I
was a confirmed sufferer from insomnia, and although otherwise
perfectly well had been completely fagged out that day, from
having slept scarcely at all the two previous nights. Edith knew
this and had insisted on sending me home by nine o'clock, with
strict orders to go to bed at once.
The house in which I lived had been occupied by three
generations of the family of which I was the only living
representative in the direct line. It was a large, ancient wooden
mansion, very elegant in an old-fashioned way within, but
situated in a quarter that had long since become undesirable for
residence, from its invasion by tenement houses and manufactories.
It was not a house to which I could think of bringing a
bride, much less so dainty a one as Edith Bartlett. I had
advertised it for sale, and meanwhile merely used it for sleeping
purposes, dining at my club. One servant, a faithful colored man
by the name of Sawyer, lived with me and attended to my few
wants. One feature of the house I expected to miss greatly when
I should leave it, and this was the sleeping chamber which I had
built under the foundations. I could not have slept in the city at
all, with its never ceasing nightly noises, if I had been obliged to
use an upstairs chamber. But to this subterranean room no
murmur from the upper world ever penetrated. When I had entered
it and closed the door, I was surrounded by the silence of
the tomb. In order to prevent the dampness of the subsoil from
penetrating the chamber, the walls had been laid in hydraulic
cement and were very thick, and the floor was likewise protected.
In order that the room might serve also as a vault equally proof
against violence and flames, for the storage of valuables, I had
roofed it with stone slabs hermetically sealed, and the outer door
was of iron with a thick coating of asbestos. A small pipe,
communicating with a wind-mill on the top of the house,
insured the renewal of air.
It might seem that the tenant of such a chamber ought to be
able to command slumber, but it was rare that I slept well, even
there, two nights in succession. So accustomed was I to wakefulness
that I minded little the loss of one night's rest. A second
night, however, spent in my reading chair instead of my bed,
tired me out, and I never allowed myself to go longer than that
without slumber, from fear of nervous disorder. From this
statement it will be inferred that I had at my command some
artificial means for inducing sleep in the last resort, and so in
fact I had. If after two sleepless nights I found myself on the
approach of the third without sensations of drowsiness, I called
in Dr. Pillsbury.
He was a doctor by courtesy only, what was called in those
days an "irregular" or "quack" doctor. He called himself a
"Professor of Animal Magnetism." I had come across him in the
course of some amateur investigations into the phenomena of
animal magnetism. I don't think he knew anything about
medicine, but he was certainly a remarkable mesmerist. It was
for the purpose of being put to sleep by his manipulations that I
used to send for him when I found a third night of sleeplessness
impending. Let my nervous excitement or mental preoccupation
be however great, Dr. Pillsbury never failed, after a short time, to
leave me in a deep slumber, which continued till I was aroused
by a reversal of the mesmerizing process. The process for
awaking the sleeper was much simpler than that for putting him
to sleep, and for convenience I had made Dr Pillsbury teach
Sawyer how to do it.
My faithful servant alone knew for what purpose Dr. Pillsbury
visited me, or that he did so at all. Of course, when Edith
became my wife I should have to tell her my secrets. I had not
hitherto told her this, because there was unquestionably a slight
risk in the mesmeric sleep, and I knew she would set her face
against my practice. The risk, of course, was that it might
become too profound and pass into a trance beyond the mesmerizer's
power to break, ending in death. Repeated experiments
had fully convinced me that the risk was next to nothing if
reasonable precautions were exercised, and of this I hoped,
though doubtingly, to convince Edith. I went directly home
after leaving her, and at once sent Sawyer to fetch Dr. Pillsbury.
Meanwhile I sought my subterranean sleeping chamber, and
exchanging my costume for a comfortable dressing-gown, sat
down to read the letters by the evening mail which Sawyer had
laid on my reading table.
One of them was from the builder of my new house, and
confirmed what I had inferred from the newspaper item. The
new strikes, he said, had postponed indefinitely the completion
of the contract, as neither masters nor workmen would concede
the point at issue without a long struggle. Caligula wished that
the Roman people had but one neck that he might cut it off,
and as I read this letter I am afraid that for a moment I was
capable of wishing the same thing concerning the laboring
classes of America. The return of Sawyer with the doctor
interrupted my gloomy meditations.
It appeared that he had with difficulty been able to secure his
services, as he was preparing to leave the city that very night.
The doctor explained that since he had seen me last he had
learned of a fine professional opening in a distant city, and
decided to take prompt advantage of it. On my asking, in some
panic, what I was to do for some one to put me to sleep, he gave
me the names of several mesmerizers in Boston who, he averred,
had quite as great powers as he.
Somewhat relieved on this point, I instructed Sawyer to rouse
me at nine o'clock next morning, and, lying down on the bed in
my dressing-gown, assumed a comfortable attitude, and surrendered
myself to the manipulations of the mesmerizer. Owing,
perhaps, to my unusually nervous state, I was slower than
common in losing consciousness, but at length a delicious
drowsiness stole over me.
"He is going to open his eyes. He had better see but one of
us at first."
"Promise me, then, that you will not tell him."
The first voice was a man's, the second a woman's, and both
spoke in whispers.
"I will see how he seems," replied the man.
"No, no, promise me," persisted the other.
"Let her have her way," whispered a third voice, also a
"Well, well, I promise, then," answered the man. "Quick, go!
He is coming out of it."
There was a rustle of garments and I opened my eyes. A fine
looking man of perhaps sixty was bending over me, an expression
of much benevolence mingled with great curiosity upon his
features. He was an utter stranger. I raised myself on an elbow
and looked around. The room was empty. I certainly had never
been in it before, or one furnished like it. I looked back at my
companion. He smiled.
"How do you feel?" he inquired.
"Where am I?" I demanded.
"You are in my house," was the reply.
"How came I here?"
"We will talk about that when you are stronger. Meanwhile, I
beg you will feel no anxiety. You are among friends and in good
hands. How do you feel?"
"A bit queerly," I replied, "but I am well, I suppose. Will you
tell me how I came to be indebted to your hospitality? What has
happened to me? How came I here? It was in my own house
that I went to sleep."
"There will be time enough for explanations later," my
unknown host replied, with a reassuring smile. "It will be better
to avoid agitating talk until you are a little more yourself. Will
you oblige me by taking a couple of swallows of this mixture? It
will do you good. I am a physician."
I repelled the glass with my hand and sat up on the couch,
although with an effort, for my head was strangely light.
"I insist upon knowing at once where I am and what you have
been doing with me," I said.
"My dear sir," responded my companion, "let me beg that you
will not agitate yourself. I would rather you did not insist upon
explanations so soon, but if you do, I will try to satisfy you,
provided you will first take this draught, which will strengthen
I thereupon drank what he offered me. Then he said, "It is
not so simple a matter as you evidently suppose to tell you how
you came here. You can tell me quite as much on that point as I
can tell you. You have just been roused from a deep sleep, or,
more properly, trance. So much I can tell you. You say you were
in your own house when you fell into that sleep. May I ask you
when that was?"
"When?" I replied, "when? Why, last evening, of course, at
about ten o'clock. I left my man Sawyer orders to call me at nine
o'clock. What has become of Sawyer?"
"I can't precisely tell you that," replied my companion,
regarding me with a curious expression, "but I am sure that he is
excusable for not being here. And now can you tell me a little
more explicitly when it was that you fell into that sleep, the
date, I mean?"
"Why, last night, of course; I said so, didn't I? that is, unless I
have overslept an entire day. Great heavens! that cannot be
possible; and yet I have an odd sensation of having slept a long
time. It was Decoration Day that I went to sleep."
"Yes, Monday, the 30th."
"Pardon me, the 30th of what?"
"Why, of this month, of course, unless I have slept into June,
but that can't be."
"This month is September."
"September! You don't mean that I've slept since May! God
in heaven! Why, it is incredible."
"We shall see," replied my companion; "you say that it was
May 30th when you went to sleep?"
"May I ask of what year?"
I stared blankly at him, incapable of speech, for some
"Of what year?" I feebly echoed at last.
"Yes, of what year, if you please? After you have told me that
I shall be able to tell you how long you have slept."
"It was the year 1887," I said.
My companion insisted that I should take another draught
from the glass, and felt my pulse.
"My dear sir," he said, "your manner indicates that you are a
man of culture, which I am aware was by no means the matter
of course in your day it now is. No doubt, then, you have
yourself made the observation that nothing in this world can be
truly said to be more wonderful than anything else. The causes
of all phenomena are equally adequate, and the results equally
matters of course. That you should be startled by what I shall
tell you is to be expected; but I am confident that you will not
permit it to affect your equanimity unduly. Your appearance is
that of a young man of barely thirty, and your bodily condition
seems not greatly different from that of one just roused from a
somewhat too long and profound sleep, and yet this is the tenth
day of September in the year 2000, and you have slept exactly
one hundred and thirteen years, three months, and eleven days."
Feeling partially dazed, I drank a cup of some sort of broth at
my companion's suggestion, and, immediately afterward becoming
very drowsy, went off into a deep sleep.
When I awoke it was broad daylight in the room, which had
been lighted artificially when I was awake before. My mysterious
host was sitting near. He was not looking at me when I opened
my eyes, and I had a good opportunity to study him and
meditate upon my extraordinary situation, before he observed
that I was awake. My giddiness was all gone, and my mind
perfectly clear. The story that I had been asleep one hundred
and thirteen years, which, in my former weak and bewildered
condition, I had accepted without question, recurred to me now
only to be rejected as a preposterous attempt at an imposture,
the motive of which it was impossible remotely to surmise.
Something extraordinary had certainly happened to account
for my waking up in this strange house with this unknown
companion, but my fancy was utterly impotent to suggest more
than the wildest guess as to what that something might have
been. Could it be that I was the victim of some sort of
conspiracy? It looked so, certainly; and yet, if human lineaments
ever gave true evidence, it was certain that this man by my side,
with a face so refined and ingenuous, was no party to any scheme
of crime or outrage. Then it occurred to me to question if I
might not be the butt of some elaborate practical joke on the
part of friends who had somehow learned the secret of my
underground chamber and taken this means of impressing me
with the peril of mesmeric experiments. There were great
difficulties in the way of this theory; Sawyer would never have
betrayed me, nor had I any friends at all likely to undertake such
an enterprise; nevertheless the supposition that I was the victim
of a practical joke seemed on the whole the only one tenable.
Half expecting to catch a glimpse of some familiar face grinning
from behind a chair or curtain, I looked carefully about the
room. When my eyes next rested on my companion, he was
looking at me.
"You have had a fine nap of twelve hours," he said briskly,
"and I can see that it has done you good. You look much better.
Your color is good and your eyes are bright. How do you feel?"
"I never felt better," I said, sitting up.
"You remember your first waking, no doubt," he pursued,
"and your surprise when I told you how long you had been
"You said, I believe, that I had slept one hundred and thirteen
"You will admit," I said, with an ironical smile, "that the
story was rather an improbable one."
"Extraordinary, I admit," he responded, "but given the proper
conditions, not improbable nor inconsistent with what we know
of the trance state. When complete, as in your case, the vital
functions are absolutely suspended, and there is no waste of the
tissues. No limit can be set to the possible duration of a trance
when the external conditions protect the body from physical
injury. This trance of yours is indeed the longest of which there
is any positive record, but there is no known reason wherefore,
had you not been discovered and had the chamber in which we
found you continued intact, you might not have remained in a
state of suspended animation till, at the end of indefinite ages,
the gradual refrigeration of the earth had destroyed the bodily
tissues and set the spirit free."
I had to admit that, if I were indeed the victim of a practical
joke, its authors had chosen an admirable agent for carrying out
their imposition. The impressive and even eloquent manner of
this man would have lent dignity to an argument that the moon
was made of cheese. The smile with which I had regarded him as
he advanced his trance hypothesis did not appear to confuse him
in the slightest degree.
"Perhaps," I said, "you will go on and favor me with some
particulars as to the circumstances under which you discovered
this chamber of which you speak, and its contents. I enjoy good
"In this case," was the grave reply, "no fiction could be so
strange as the truth. You must know that these many years I
have been cherishing the idea of building a laboratory in the
large garden beside this house, for the purpose of chemical
experiments for which I have a taste. Last Thursday the excava-
tion for the cellar was at last begun. It was completed by that
night, and Friday the masons were to have come. Thursday
night we had a tremendous deluge of rain, and Friday morning I
found my cellar a frog-pond and the walls quite washed down.
My daughter, who had come out to view the disaster with me,
called my attention to a corner of masonry laid bare by the
crumbling away of one of the walls. I cleared a little earth from
it, and, finding that it seemed part of a large mass, determined to
investigate it. The workmen I sent for unearthed an oblong vault
some eight feet below the surface, and set in the corner of what
had evidently been the foundation walls of an ancient house. A
layer of ashes and charcoal on the top of the vault showed that
the house above had perished by fire. The vault itself was
perfectly intact, the cement being as good as when first applied.
It had a door, but this we could not force, and found entrance
by removing one of the flagstones which formed the roof. The
air which came up was stagnant but pure, dry and not cold.
Descending with a lantern, I found myself in an apartment
fitted up as a bedroom in the style of the nineteenth century. On
the bed lay a young man. That he was dead and must have been
dead a century was of course to be taken for granted; but the
extraordinary state of preservation of the body struck me and the
medical colleagues whom I had summoned with amazement.
That the art of such embalming as this had ever been known we
should not have believed, yet here seemed conclusive testimony
that our immediate ancestors had possessed it. My medical
colleagues, whose curiosity was highly excited, were at once for
undertaking experiments to test the nature of the process
employed, but I withheld them. My motive in so doing, at least
the only motive I now need speak of, was the recollection of
something I once had read about the extent to which your
contemporaries had cultivated the subject of animal magnetism.
It had occurred to me as just conceivable that you might be in a
trance, and that the secret of your bodily integrity after so long a
time was not the craft of an embalmer, but life. So extremely
fanciful did this idea seem, even to me, that I did not risk the
ridicule of my fellow physicians by mentioning it, but gave some
other reason for postponing their experiments. No sooner, however,
had they left me, than I set on foot a systematic attempt at
resuscitation, of which you know the result."
Had its theme been yet more incredible, the circumstantiality
of this narrative, as well as the impressive manner and personality
of the narrator, might have staggered a listener, and I had
begun to feel very strangely, when, as he closed, I chanced to
catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall
of the room. I rose and went up to it. The face I saw was the
face to a hair and a line and not a day older than the one I had
looked at as I tied my cravat before going to Edith that
Decoration Day, which, as this man would have me believe, was
celebrated one hundred and thirteen years before. At this, the
colossal character of the fraud which was being attempted on
me, came over me afresh. Indignation mastered my mind as I
realized the outrageous liberty that had been taken.
"You are probably surprised," said my companion, "to see
that, although you are a century older than when you lay down
to sleep in that underground chamber, your appearance is
unchanged. That should not amaze you. It is by virtue of the
total arrest of the vital functions that you have survived this
great period of time. If your body could have undergone any
change during your trance, it would long ago have suffered
"Sir," I replied, turning to him, "what your motive can be in
reciting to me with a serious face this remarkable farrago, I am
utterly unable to guess; but you are surely yourself too intelligent
to suppose that anybody but an imbecile could be deceived by it.
Spare me any more of this elaborate nonsense and once for all
tell me whether you refuse to give me an intelligible account of
where I am and how I came here. If so, I shall proceed to
ascertain my whereabouts for myself, whoever may hinder."
"You do not, then, believe that this is the year 2000?"
"Do you really think it necessary to ask me that?" I returned.
"Very well," replied my extraordinary host. "Since I cannot
convince you, you shall convince yourself. Are you strong
enough to follow me upstairs?"
"I am as strong as I ever was," I replied angrily, "as I may have
to prove if this jest is carried much farther."
"I beg, sir," was my companion's response, "that you will not
allow yourself to be too fully persuaded that you are the victim
of a trick, lest the reaction, when you are convinced of the truth
of my statements, should be too great."
The tone of concern, mingled with commiseration, with
which he said this, and the entire absence of any sign of
resentment at my hot words, strangely daunted me, and I
followed him from the room with an extraordinary mixture of
emotions. He led the way up two flights of stairs and then up a
shorter one, which landed us upon a belvedere on the house-top.
"Be pleased to look around you," he said, as we reached the
platform, "and tell me if this is the Boston of the nineteenth
At my feet lay a great city. Miles of broad streets, shaded by
trees and lined with fine buildings, for the most part not in
continuous blocks but set in larger or smaller inclosures,
stretched in every direction. Every quarter contained large open
squares filled with trees, among which statues glistened and
fountains flashed in the late afternoon sun. Public buildings of a
colossal size and an architectural grandeur unparalleled in my
day raised their stately piles on every side. Surely I had never
seen this city nor one comparable to it before. Raising my eyes at
last towards the horizon, I looked westward. That blue ribbon
winding away to the sunset, was it not the sinuous Charles? I
looked east; Boston harbor stretched before me within its
headlands, not one of its green islets missing.
I knew then that I had been told the truth concerning the
prodigious thing which had befallen me.
I did not faint, but the effort to realize my position made me
very giddy, and I remember that my companion had to give me
a strong arm as he conducted me from the roof to a roomy
apartment on the upper floor of the house, where he insisted on
my drinking a glass or two of good wine and partaking of a light
"I think you are going to be all right now," he said cheerily. "I
should not have taken so abrupt a means to convince you of your
position if your course, while perfectly excusable under the
circumstances, had not rather obliged me to do so. I confess," he
added laughing, "I was a little apprehensive at one time that I
should undergo what I believe you used to call a knockdown in
the nineteenth century, if I did not act rather promptly. I
remembered that the Bostonians of your day were famous
pugilists, and thought best to lose no time. I take it you are now
ready to acquit me of the charge of hoaxing you."
"If you had told me," I replied, profoundly awed, "that a
thousand years instead of a hundred had elapsed since I last
looked on this city, I should now believe you."
"Only a century has passed," he answered, "but many a
millennium in the world's history has seen changes less extraordinary."
"And now," he added, extending his hand with an air of
irresistible cordiality, "let me give you a hearty welcome to the
Boston of the twentieth century and to this house. My name is
Leete, Dr. Leete they call me."
"My name," I said as I shook his hand, "is Julian West."
"I am most happy in making your acquaintance, Mr. West,"
he responded. "Seeing that this house is built on the site of
your own, I hope you will find it easy to make yourself at
home in it."
After my refreshment Dr. Leete offered me a bath and a
change of clothing, of which I gladly availed myself.
It did not appear that any very startling revolution in men's
attire had been among the great changes my host had spoken of,
for, barring a few details, my new habiliments did not puzzle me
Physically, I was now myself again. But mentally, how was it
with me, the reader will doubtless wonder. What were my
intellectual sensations, he may wish to know, on finding myself
so suddenly dropped as it were into a new world. In reply let me
ask him to suppose himself suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye,
transported from earth, say, to Paradise or Hades. What does
he fancy would be his own experience? Would his thoughts
return at once to the earth he had just left, or would he, after
the first shock, wellnigh forget his former life for a while, albeit
to be remembered later, in the interest excited by his new
surroundings? All I can say is, that if his experience were at all
like mine in the transition I am describing, the latter hypothesis
would prove the correct one. The impressions of amazement and
curiosity which my new surroundings produced occupied my
mind, after the first shock, to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
For the time the memory of my former life was, as it were, in
No sooner did I find myself physically rehabilitated through
the kind offices of my host, than I became eager to return to the
house-top; and presently we were comfortably established there
in easy-chairs, with the city beneath and around us. After Dr.
Leete had responded to numerous questions on my part, as to
the ancient landmarks I missed and the new ones which had
replaced them, he asked me what point of the contrast between
the new and the old city struck me most forcibly.
"To speak of small things before great," I responded, "I really
think that the complete absence of chimneys and their smoke is
the detail that first impressed me."
"Ah!" ejaculated my companion with an air of much interest,
"I had forgotten the chimneys, it is so long since they went out
of use. It is nearly a century since the crude method of
combustion on which you depended for heat became obsolete."
"In general," I said, "what impresses me most about the city is
the material prosperity on the part of the people which its
"I would give a great deal for just one glimpse of the Boston
of your day," replied Dr. Leete. "No doubt, as you imply, the
cities of that period were rather shabby affairs. If you had the
taste to make them splendid, which I would not be so rude as to
question, the general poverty resulting from your extraordinary
industrial system would not have given you the means.
Moreover, the excessive individualism which then prevailed was
inconsistent with much public spirit. What little wealth you had
seems almost wholly to have been lavished in private luxury.
Nowadays, on the contrary, there is no destination of the surplus
wealth so popular as the adornment of the city, which all enjoy
in equal degree."
The sun had been setting as we returned to the house-top, and
as we talked night descended upon the city.
"It is growing dark," said Dr. Leete. "Let us descend into the
house; I want to introduce my wife and daughter to you."
His words recalled to me the feminine voices which I had
heard whispering about me as I was coming back to conscious
life; and, most curious to learn what the ladies of the year 2000
were like, I assented with alacrity to the proposition. The
apartment in which we found the wife and daughter of my host,
as well as the entire interior of the house, was filled with a
mellow light, which I knew must be artificial, although I could
not discover the source from which it was diffused. Mrs. Leete
was an exceptionally fine looking and well preserved woman of
about her husband's age, while the daughter, who was in the first
blush of womanhood, was the most beautiful girl I had ever
seen. Her face was as bewitching as deep blue eyes, delicately
tinted complexion, and perfect features could make it, but even
had her countenance lacked special charms, the faultless luxuriance
of her figure would have given her place as a beauty among
the women of the nineteenth century. Feminine softness and
delicacy were in this lovely creature deliciously combined with
an appearance of health and abounding physical vitality too
often lacking in the maidens with whom alone I could compare
her. It was a coincidence trifling in comparison with the general
strangeness of the situation, but still striking, that her name
should be Edith.
The evening that followed was certainly unique in the history
of social intercourse, but to suppose that our conversation was
peculiarly strained or difficult would be a great mistake. I believe
indeed that it is under what may be called unnatural, in the
sense of extraordinary, circumstances that people behave most
naturally, for the reason, no doubt, that such circumstances
banish artificiality. I know at any rate that my intercourse that
evening with these representatives of another age and world was
marked by an ingenuous sincerity and frankness such as but
rarely crown long acquaintance. No doubt the exquisite tact of
my entertainers had much to do with this. Of course there was
nothing we could talk of but the strange experience by virtue of
which I was there, but they talked of it with an interest so naive
and direct in its expression as to relieve the subject to a great
degree of the element of the weird and the uncanny which
might so easily have been overpowering. One would have supposed
that they were quite in the habit of entertaining waifs
from another century, so perfect was their tact.
For my own part, never do I remember the operations of my
mind to have been more alert and acute than that evening, or
my intellectual sensibilities more keen. Of course I do not mean
that the consciousness of my amazing situation was for a
moment out of mind, but its chief effect thus far was to produce
a feverish elation, a sort of mental intoxication.
 In accounting for this state of mind it must be remembered
that, except for the topic of our conversations, there was in my
surroundings next to nothing to suggest what had befallen me.
Within a block of my home in the old Boston I could have found
social circles vastly more foreign to me. The speech of the Bostonians
of the twentieth century differs even less from that of their
cultured ancestors of the nineteenth than did that of the latter
from the language of Washington and Franklin, while the differences
between the style of dress and furniture of the two epochs
are not more marked than I have known fashion to make in the
time of one generation.
Edith Leete took little part in the conversation, but when
several times the magnetism of her beauty drew my glance to her
face, I found her eyes fixed on me with an absorbed intensity,
almost like fascination. It was evident that I had excited her
interest to an extraordinary degree, as was not astonishing,
supposing her to be a girl of imagination. Though I supposed
curiosity was the chief motive of her interest, it could but affect
me as it would not have done had she been less beautiful.
Dr. Leete, as well as the ladies, seemed greatly interested in
my account of the circumstances under which I had gone to
sleep in the underground chamber. All had suggestions to offer
to account for my having been forgotten there, and the theory
which we finally agreed on offers at least a plausible explanation,
although whether it be in its details the true one, nobody, of
course, will ever know. The layer of ashes found above the
chamber indicated that the house had been burned down. Let it
be supposed that the conflagration had taken place the night I
fell asleep. It only remains to assume that Sawyer lost his life in
the fire or by some accident connected with it, and the rest
follows naturally enough. No one but he and Dr. Pillsbury either
knew of the existence of the chamber or that I was in it, and Dr.
Pillsbury, who had gone that night to New Orleans, had
probably never heard of the fire at all. The conclusion of my
friends, and of the public, must have been that I had perished in
the flames. An excavation of the ruins, unless thorough, would
not have disclosed the recess in the foundation walls connecting
with my chamber. To be sure, if the site had been again built
upon, at least immediately, such an excavation would have been
necessary, but the troublous times and the undesirable character
of the locality might well have prevented rebuilding. The size of
the trees in the garden now occupying the site indicated, Dr.
Leete said, that for more than half a century at least it had been
When, in the course of the evening the ladies retired, leaving
Dr. Leete and myself alone, he sounded me as to my disposition
for sleep, saying that if I felt like it my bed was ready for me; but
if I was inclined to wakefulness nothing would please him better
than to bear me company. "I am a late bird, myself," he said,
"and, without suspicion of flattery, I may say that a companion
more interesting than yourself could scarcely be imagined. It is
decidedly not often that one has a chance to converse with a
man of the nineteenth century."
Now I had been looking forward all the evening with some
dread to the time when I should be alone, on retiring for the
night. Surrounded by these most friendly strangers, stimulated
and supported by their sympathetic interest, I had been able to
keep my mental balance. Even then, however, in pauses of the
conversation I had had glimpses, vivid as lightning flashes, of the
horror of strangeness that was waiting to be faced when I could
no longer command diversion. I knew I could not sleep that
night, and as for lying awake and thinking, it argues no cowardice,
I am sure, to confess that I was afraid of it. When, in reply
to my host's question, I frankly told him this, he replied that it
would be strange if I did not feel just so, but that I need have no
anxiety about sleeping; whenever I wanted to go to bed, he
would give me a dose which would insure me a sound night's
sleep without fail. Next morning, no doubt, I would awake with
the feeling of an old citizen.
"Before I acquired that," I replied, "I must know a little more
about the sort of Boston I have come back to. You told me
when we were upon the house-top that though a century only
had elapsed since I fell asleep, it had been marked by greater
changes in the conditions of humanity than many a previous
millennium. With the city before me I could well believe that,
but I am very curious to know what some of the changes have
been. To make a beginning somewhere, for the subject is
doubtless a large one, what solution, if any, have you found for
the labor question? It was the Sphinx's riddle of the nineteenth
century, and when I dropped out the Sphinx was threatening to
devour society, because the answer was not forthcoming. It is
well worth sleeping a hundred years to learn what the right
answer was, if, indeed, you have found it yet."
"As no such thing as the labor question is known nowadays,"
replied Dr. Leete, "and there is no way in which it could arise, I
suppose we may claim to have solved it. Society would indeed
have fully deserved being devoured if it had failed to answer a
riddle so entirely simple. In fact, to speak by the book, it was not
necessary for society to solve the riddle at all. It may be said to
have solved itself. The solution came as the result of a process of
industrial evolution which could not have terminated otherwise.
All that society had to do was to recognize and cooperate with
that evolution, when its tendency had become unmistakable."
"I can only say," I answered, "that at the time I fell asleep no
such evolution had been recognized."
"It was in 1887 that you fell into this sleep, I think you said."
"Yes, May 30th, 1887."
My companion regarded me musingly for some moments.
Then he observed, "And you tell me that even then there was no
general recognition of the nature of the crisis which society was
nearing? Of course, I fully credit your statement. The singular
blindness of your contemporaries to the signs of the times is a
phenomenon commented on by many of our historians, but few
facts of history are more difficult for us to realize, so obvious and
unmistakable as we look back seem the indications, which must
also have come under your eyes, of the transformation about to
come to pass. I should be interested, Mr. West, if you would
give me a little more definite idea of the view which you and
men of your grade of intellect took of the state and prospects of
society in 1887. You must, at least, have realized that the
widespread industrial and social troubles, and the underlying
dissatisfaction of all classes with the inequalities of society, and
the general misery of mankind, were portents of great changes of
"We did, indeed, fully realize that," I replied. "We felt that
society was dragging anchor and in danger of going adrift.
Whither it would drift nobody could say, but all feared the
"Nevertheless," said Dr. Leete, "the set of the current was
perfectly perceptible if you had but taken pains to observe it,
and it was not toward the rocks, but toward a deeper channel."
"We had a popular proverb," I replied, "that `hindsight is
better than foresight,' the force of which I shall now, no doubt,
appreciate more fully than ever. All I can say is, that the
prospect was such when I went into that long sleep that I should
not have been surprised had I looked down from your house-top
to-day on a heap of charred and moss-grown ruins instead of this
Dr. Leete had listened to me with close attention and nodded
thoughtfully as I finished speaking. "What you have said," he
observed, "will be regarded as a most valuable vindication of
Storiot, whose account of your era has been generally thought
exaggerated in its picture of the gloom and confusion of men's
minds. That a period of transition like that should be full of
excitement and agitation was indeed to be looked for; but seeing
how plain was the tendency of the forces in operation, it was
natural to believe that hope rather than fear would have been
the prevailing temper of the popular mind."
"You have not yet told me what was the answer to the riddle
which you found," I said. "I am impatient to know by what
contradiction of natural sequence the peace and prosperity
which you now seem to enjoy could have been the outcome of
an era like my own."
"Excuse me," replied my host, "but do you smoke?" It was
not till our cigars were lighted and drawing well that he
resumed. "Since you are in the humor to talk rather than to
sleep, as I certainly am, perhaps I cannot do better than to try
to give you enough idea of our modern industrial system to
dissipate at least the impression that there is any mystery about
the process of its evolution. The Bostonians of your day had the
reputation of being great askers of questions, and I am going to
show my descent by asking you one to begin with. What should
you name as the most prominent feature of the labor troubles of
"Why, the strikes, of course," I replied.
"Exactly; but what made the strikes so formidable?"
"The great labor organizations."
"And what was the motive of these great organizations?"
"The workmen claimed they had to organize to get their
rights from the big corporations," I replied.
"That is just it," said Dr. Leete; "the organization of labor and
the strikes were an effect, merely, of the concentration of capital
in greater masses than had ever been known before. Before this
concentration began, while as yet commerce and industry were
conducted by innumerable petty concerns with small capital,
instead of a small number of great concerns with vast capital, the
individual workman was relatively important and independent in
his relations to the employer. Moreover, when a little capital or a
new idea was enough to start a man in business for himself,
workingmen were constantly becoming employers and there was
no hard and fast line between the two classes. Labor unions were
needless then, and general strikes out of the question. But when
the era of small concerns with small capital was succeeded by
that of the great aggregations of capital, all this was changed.
The individual laborer, who had been relatively important to the
small employer, was reduced to insignificance and powerlessness
over against the great corporation, while at the same time the
way upward to the grade of employer was closed to him.
Self-defense drove him to union with his fellows.
"The records of the period show that the outcry against the
concentration of capital was furious. Men believed that it
threatened society with a form of tyranny more abhorrent than
it had ever endured. They believed that the great corporations
were preparing for them the yoke of a baser servitude than had
ever been imposed on the race, servitude not to men but to
soulless machines incapable of any motive but insatiable greed.
Looking back, we cannot wonder at their desperation, for
certainly humanity was never confronted with a fate more sordid
and hideous than would have been the era of corporate tyranny
which they anticipated.
"Meanwhile, without being in the smallest degree checked by
the clamor against it, the absorption of business by ever larger
monopolies continued. In the United States there was not, after
the beginning of the last quarter of the century, any opportunity
whatever for individual enterprise in any important field of
industry, unless backed by a great capital. During the last decade
of the century, such small businesses as still remained were
fast-failing survivals of a past epoch, or mere parasites on the
great corporations, or else existed in fields too small to attract
the great capitalists. Small businesses, as far as they still
remained, were reduced to the condition of rats and mice, living
in holes and corners, and counting on evading notice for the
enjoyment of existence. The railroads had gone on combining
till a few great syndicates controlled every rail in the land. In
manufactories, every important staple was controlled by a syndicate.
These syndicates, pools, trusts, or whatever their name,
fixed prices and crushed all competition except when combinations
as vast as themselves arose. Then a struggle, resulting in a
still greater consolidation, ensued. The great city bazar crushed
it country rivals with branch stores, and in the city itself
absorbed its smaller rivals till the business of a whole quarter was
concentrated under one roof, with a hundred former proprietors
of shops serving as clerks. Having no business of his own to put
his money in, the small capitalist, at the same time that he took
service under the corporation, found no other investment for his
money but its stocks and bonds, thus becoming doubly dependent
"The fact that the desperate popular opposition to the consolidation
of business in a few powerful hands had no effect to
check it proves that there must have been a strong economical
reason for it. The small capitalists, with their innumerable petty
concerns, had in fact yielded the field to the great aggregations
of capital, because they belonged to a day of small things and
were totally incompetent to the demands of an age of steam and
telegraphs and the gigantic scale of its enterprises. To restore the
former order of things, even if possible, would have involved
returning to the day of stagecoaches. Oppressive and intolerable
as was the regime of the great consolidations of capital, even its
victims, while they cursed it, were forced to admit the prodigious
increase of efficiency which had been imparted to the national
industries, the vast economies effected by concentration of
management and unity of organization, and to confess that since
the new system had taken the place of the old the wealth of the
world had increased at a rate before undreamed of. To be sure
this vast increase had gone chiefly to make the rich richer,
increasing the gap between them and the poor; but the fact
remained that, as a means merely of producing wealth, capital
had been proved efficient in proportion to its consolidation. The
restoration of the old system with the subdivision of capital, if it
were possible, might indeed bring back a greater equality of
conditions, with more individual dignity and freedom, but it
would be at the price of general poverty and the arrest of
"Was there, then, no way of commanding the services of the
mighty wealth-producing principle of consolidated capital without
bowing down to a plutocracy like that of Carthage? As soon
as men began to ask themselves these questions, they found the
answer ready for them. The movement toward the conduct of
business by larger and larger aggregations of capital, the
tendency toward monopolies, which had been so desperately and
vainly resisted, was recognized at last, in its true significance, as a
process which only needed to complete its logical evolution to
open a golden future to humanity.
"Early in the last century the evolution was completed by the
final consolidation of the entire capital of the nation. The
industry and commerce of the country, ceasing to be conducted
by a set of irresponsible corporations and syndicates of private
persons at their caprice and for their profit, were intrusted to a
single syndicate representing the people, to be conducted in the
common interest for the common profit. The nation, that is to
say, organized as the one great business corporation in which all
other corporations were absorbed; it became the one capitalist in
the place of all other capitalists, the sole employer, the final
monopoly in which all previous and lesser monopolies were
swallowed up, a monopoly in the profits and economies of which
all citizens shared. The epoch of trusts had ended in The Great
Trust. In a word, the people of the United States concluded to
assume the conduct of their own business, just as one hundred
odd years before they had assumed the conduct of their own
government, organizing now for industrial purposes on precisely
the same grounds that they had then organized for political
purposes. At last, strangely late in the world's history, the obvious
fact was perceived that no business is so essentially the
public business as the industry and commerce on which the
people's livelihood depends, and that to entrust it to private
persons to be managed for private profit is a folly similar in kind,
though vastly greater in magnitude, to that of surrendering the
functions of political government to kings and nobles to be
conducted for their personal glorification."
"Such a stupendous change as you describe," said I, "did not,
of course, take place without great bloodshed and terrible
"On the contrary," replied Dr. Leete, "there was absolutely no
violence. The change had been long foreseen. Public opinion
had become fully ripe for it, and the whole mass of the people
was behind it. There was no more possibility of opposing it by
force than by argument. On the other hand the popular sentiment
toward the great corporations and those identified with
them had ceased to be one of bitterness, as they came to realize
their necessity as a link, a transition phase, in the evolution of
the true industrial system. The most violent foes of the great
private monopolies were now forced to recognize how invaluable
and indispensable had been their office in educating the people
up to the point of assuming control of their own business. Fifty
years before, the consolidation of the industries of the country
under national control would have seemed a very daring experiment
to the most sanguine. But by a series of object lessons, seen
and studied by all men, the great corporations had taught the
people an entirely new set of ideas on this subject. They had
seen for many years syndicates handling revenues greater than
those of states, and directing the labors of hundreds of thousands
of men with an efficiency and economy unattainable in smaller
operations. It had come to be recognized as an axiom that the
larger the business the simpler the principles that can be applied
to it; that, as the machine is truer than the hand, so the system,
which in a great concern does the work of the master's eye in a
small business, turns out more accurate results. Thus it came
about that, thanks to the corporations themselves, when it was
proposed that the nation should assume their functions, the
suggestion implied nothing which seemed impracticable even to
the timid. To be sure it was a step beyond any yet taken, a
broader generalization, but the very fact that the nation would
be the sole corporation in the field would, it was seen, relieve the
undertaking of many difficulties with which the partial monopolies
Dr. Leete ceased speaking, and I remained silent, endeavoring
to form some general conception of the changes in the arrangements
of society implied in the tremendous revolution which he
Finally I said, "The idea of such an extension of the functions
of government is, to say the least, rather overwhelming."
"Extension!" he repeated, "where is the extension?"
"In my day," I replied, "it was considered that the proper
functions of government, strictly speaking, were limited to
keeping the peace and defending the people against the public
enemy, that is, to the military and police powers."
"And, in heaven's name, who are the public enemies?"
exclaimed Dr. Leete. "Are they France, England, Germany, or
hunger, cold, and nakedness? In your day governments were
accustomed, on the slightest international misunderstanding, to
seize upon the bodies of citizens and deliver them over by
hundreds of thousands to death and mutilation, wasting their
treasures the while like water; and all this oftenest for no
imaginable profit to the victims. We have no wars now, and our
governments no war powers, but in order to protect every citizen
against hunger, cold, and nakedness, and provide for all his
physical and mental needs, the function is assumed of directing
his industry for a term of years. No, Mr. West, I am sure on
reflection you will perceive that it was in your age, not in ours,
that the extension of the functions of governments was extraordinary.
Not even for the best ends would men now allow their
governments such powers as were then used for the most
"Leaving comparisons aside," I said, "the demagoguery and
corruption of our public men would have been considered, in my
day, insuperable objections to any assumption by government of
the charge of the national industries. We should have thought
that no arrangement could be worse than to entrust the politicians
with control of the wealth-producing machinery of the
country. Its material interests were quite too much the football
of parties as it was."
"No doubt you were right," rejoined Dr. Leete, "but all that is
changed now. We have no parties or politicians, and as for
demagoguery and corruption, they are words having only an
"Human nature itself must have changed very much," I said.
"Not at all," was Dr. Leete's reply, "but the conditions of
human life have changed, and with them the motives of human
action. The organization of society with you was such that officials
were under a constant temptation to misuse their power
for the private profit of themselves or others. Under such
circumstances it seems almost strange that you dared entrust
them with any of your affairs. Nowadays, on the contrary, society
is so constituted that there is absolutely no way in which an
official, however ill-disposed, could possibly make any profit for
himself or any one else by a misuse of his power. Let him be as
bad an official as you please, he cannot be a corrupt one. There is
no motive to be. The social system no longer offers a premium
on dishonesty. But these are matters which you can only
understand as you come, with time, to know us better."
"But you have not yet told me how you have settled the labor
problem. It is the problem of capital which we have been
discussing," I said. "After the nation had assumed conduct of
the mills, machinery, railroads, farms, mines, and capital in
general of the country, the labor question still remained. In
assuming the responsibilities of capital the nation had assumed
the difficulties of the capitalist's position."
"The moment the nation assumed the responsibilities of
capital those difficulties vanished," replied Dr. Leete. "The
national organization of labor under one direction was the
complete solution of what was, in your day and under your
system, justly regarded as the insoluble labor problem. When
the nation became the sole employer, all the citizens, by virtue
of their citizenship, became employees, to be distributed according
to the needs of industry."
"That is," I suggested, "you have simply applied the principle
of universal military service, as it was understood in our day, to
the labor question."
"Yes," said Dr. Leete, "that was something which followed as
a matter of course as soon as the nation had become the sole
capitalist. The people were already accustomed to the idea that
the obligation of every citizen, not physically disabled, to contribute
his military services to the defense of the nation was
equal and absolute. That it was equally the duty of every citizen
to contribute his quota of industrial or intellectual services to
the maintenance of the nation was equally evident, though it
was not until the nation became the employer of labor that
citizens were able to render this sort of service with any pretense
either of universality or equity. No organization of labor was
possible when the employing power was divided among hundreds
or thousands of individuals and corporations, between
which concert of any kind was neither desired, nor indeed
feasible. It constantly happened then that vast numbers who
desired to labor could find no opportunity, and on the other
hand, those who desired to evade a part or all of their debt could
easily do so."
"Service, now, I suppose, is compulsory upon all," I suggested.
"It is rather a matter of course than of compulsion," replied
Dr. Leete. "It is regarded as so absolutely natural and reasonable
that the idea of its being compulsory has ceased to be thought
of. He would be thought to be an incredibly contemptible
person who should need compulsion in such a case. Nevertheless,
to speak of service being compulsory would be a weak way
to state its absolute inevitableness. Our entire social order is so
wholly based upon and deduced from it that if it were conceivable
that a man could escape it, he would be left with no
possible way to provide for his existence. He would have
excluded himself from the world, cut himself off from his kind,
in a word, committed suicide."
"Is the term of service in this industrial army for life?"
"Oh, no; it both begins later and ends earlier than the average
working period in your day. Your workshops were filled with
children and old men, but we hold the period of youth sacred to
education, and the period of maturity, when the physical forces
begin to flag, equally sacred to ease and agreeable relaxation. The
period of industrial service is twenty-four years, beginning at the
close of the course of education at twenty-one and terminating
at forty-five. After forty-five, while discharged from labor, the
citizen still remains liable to special calls, in case of emergencies
causing a sudden great increase in the demand for labor, till he
reaches the age of fifty-five, but such calls are rarely, in fact
almost never, made. The fifteenth day of October of every year is
what we call Muster Day, because those who have reached the
age of twenty-one are then mustered into the industrial service,
and at the same time those who, after twenty-four years' service,
have reached the age of forty-five, are honorably mustered out. It
is the great day of the year with us, whence we reckon all other
events, our Olympiad, save that it is annual."
"It is after you have mustered your industrial army into
service," I said, "that I should expect the chief difficulty to arise,
for there its analogy with a military army must cease. Soldiers
have all the same thing, and a very simple thing, to do, namely,
to practice the manual of arms, to march and stand guard. But
the industrial army must learn and follow two or three hundred
diverse trades and avocations. What administrative talent can be
equal to determining wisely what trade or business every individual
in a great nation shall pursue?"
"The administration has nothing to do with determining that
"Who does determine it, then?" I asked.
"Every man for himself in accordance with his natural aptitude,
the utmost pains being taken to enable him to find out
what his natural aptitude really is. The principle on which our
industrial army is organized is that a man's natural endowments,
mental and physical, determine what he can work at most
profitably to the nation and most satisfactorily to himself. While
the obligation of service in some form is not to be evaded,
voluntary election, subject only to necessary regulation, is
depended on to determine the particular sort of service every
man is to render. As an individual's satisfaction during his term
of service depends on his having an occupation to his taste,
parents and teachers watch from early years for indications of
special aptitudes in children. A thorough study of the National
industrial system, with the history and rudiments of all the great
trades, is an essential part of our educational system. While
manual training is not allowed to encroach on the general
intellectual culture to which our schools are devoted, it is carried
far enough to give our youth, in addition to their theoretical
knowledge of the national industries, mechanical and agricultural,
a certain familiarity with their tools and methods. Our
schools are constantly visiting our workshops, and often are
taken on long excursions to inspect particular industrial enterprises.
In your day a man was not ashamed to be grossly ignorant
of all trades except his own, but such ignorance would not be
consistent with our idea of placing every one in a position to
select intelligently the occupation for which he has most taste.
Usually long before he is mustered into service a young man has
found out the pursuit he wants to follow, has acquired a great
deal of knowledge about it, and is waiting impatiently the time
when he can enlist in its ranks."
"Surely," I said, "it can hardly be that the number of
volunteers for any trade is exactly the number needed in that
trade. It must be generally either under or over the demand."
"The supply of volunteers is always expected to fully equal the
demand," replied Dr. Leete. "It is the business of the administration
to see that this is the case. The rate of volunteering for
each trade is closely watched. If there be a noticeably greater
excess of volunteers over men needed in any trade, it is inferred
that the trade offers greater attractions than others. On the other
hand, if the number of volunteers for a trade tends to drop
below the demand, it is inferred that it is thought more arduous.
It is the business of the administration to seek constantly to
equalize the attractions of the trades, so far as the conditions of
labor in them are concerned, so that all trades shall be equally
attractive to persons having natural tastes for them. This is done
by making the hours of labor in different trades to differ
according to their arduousness. The lighter trades, prosecuted
under the most agreeable circumstances, have in this way the
longest hours, while an arduous trade, such as mining, has very
short hours. There is no theory, no a priori rule, by which the
respective attractiveness of industries is determined. The
administration, in taking burdens off one class of workers and adding
them to other classes, simply follows the fluctuations of opinion
among the workers themselves as indicated by the rate of
volunteering. The principle is that no man's work ought to be,
on the whole, harder for him than any other man's for him, the
workers themselves to be the judges. There are no limits to the
application of this rule. If any particular occupation is in itself so
arduous or so oppressive that, in order to induce volunteers, the
day's work in it had to be reduced to ten minutes, it would be
done. If, even then, no man was willing to do it, it would remain
undone. But of course, in point of fact, a moderate reduction in
the hours of labor, or addition of other privileges, suffices to
secure all needed volunteers for any occupation necessary to
men. If, indeed, the unavoidable difficulties and dangers of such
a necessary pursuit were so great that no inducement of compensating
advantages would overcome men's repugnance to it, the
administration would only need to take it out of the common
order of occupations by declaring it `extra hazardous,' and those
who pursued it especially worthy of the national gratitude, to be
overrun with volunteers. Our young men are very greedy of
honor, and do not let slip such opportunities. Of course you will
see that dependence on the purely voluntary choice of avocations
involves the abolition in all of anything like unhygienic conditions
or special peril to life and limb. Health and safety are
conditions common to all industries. The nation does not maim
and slaughter its workmen by thousands, as did the private
capitalists and corporations of your day."
"When there are more who want to enter a particular trade
than there is room for, how do you decide between the applicants?"
"Preference is given to those who have acquired the most
knowledge of the trade they wish to follow. No man, however,
who through successive years remains persistent in his desire to
show what he can do at any particular trade, is in the end denied
an opportunity. Meanwhile, if a man cannot at first win entrance
into the business he prefers, he has usually one or more alternative
preferences, pursuits for which he has some degree of
aptitude, although not the highest. Every one, indeed, is
expected to study his aptitudes so as to have not only a first
choice as to occupation, but a second or third, so that if, either
at the outset of his career or subsequently, owing to the progress
of invention or changes in demand, he is unable to follow his
first vocation, he can still find reasonably congenial employment.
This principle of secondary choices as to occupation is quite
important in our system. I should add, in reference to the
counter-possibility of some sudden failure of volunteers in a
particular trade, or some sudden necessity of an increased force,
that the administration, while depending on the voluntary
system for filling up the trades as a rule, holds always in reserve
the power to call for special volunteers, or draft any force needed
from any quarter. Generally, however, all needs of this sort can
be met by details from the class of unskilled or common
"How is this class of common laborers recruited?" I asked.
"Surely nobody voluntarily enters that."
"It is the grade to which all new recruits belong for the first
three years of their service. It is not till after this period, during
which he is assignable to any work at the discretion of his
superiors, that the young man is allowed to elect a special
avocation. These three years of stringent discipline none are
exempt from, and very glad our young men are to pass from this
severe school into the comparative liberty of the trades. If a man
were so stupid as to have no choice as to occupation, he would
simply remain a common laborer; but such cases, as you may
suppose, are not common."
"Having once elected and entered on a trade or occupation," I
remarked, "I suppose he has to stick to it the rest of his life."
"Not necessarily," replied Dr. Leete; "while frequent and
merely capricious changes of occupation are not encouraged or
even permitted, every worker is allowed, of course, under certain
regulations and in accordance with the exigencies of the service,
to volunteer for another industry which he thinks would suit
him better than his first choice. In this case his application is
received just as if he were volunteering for the first time, and on
the same terms. Not only this, but a worker may likewise, under
suitable regulations and not too frequently, obtain a transfer to
an establishment of the same industry in another part of the
country which for any reason he may prefer. Under your system
a discontented man could indeed leave his work at will, but he
left his means of support at the same time, and took his chances
as to future livelihood. We find that the number of men who
wish to abandon an accustomed occupation for a new one, and
old friends and associations for strange ones, is small. It is only
the poorer sort of workmen who desire to change even as
frequently as our regulations permit. Of course transfers or
discharges, when health demands them, are always given."
"As an industrial system, I should think this might be
extremely efficient," I said, "but I don't see that it makes any
provision for the professional classes, the men who serve the
nation with brains instead of hands. Of course you can't get
along without the brain-workers. How, then, are they selected
from those who are to serve as farmers and mechanics? That
must require a very delicate sort of sifting process, I should say."
"So it does," replied Dr. Leete; "the most delicate possible
test is needed here, and so we leave the question whether a man
shall be a brain or hand worker entirely to him to settle. At the
end of the term of three years as a common laborer, which every
man must serve, it is for him to choose, in accordance to his
natural tastes, whether he will fit himself for an art or profession,
or be a farmer or mechanic. If he feels that he can do better
work with his brains than his muscles, he finds every facility
provided for testing the reality of his supposed bent, of cultivating
it, and if fit of pursuing it as his avocation. The schools of
technology, of medicine, of art, of music, of histrionics, and of
higher liberal learning are always open to aspirants without
"Are not the schools flooded with young men whose only
motive is to avoid work?"
Dr. Leete smiled a little grimly.
"No one is at all likely to enter the professional schools for the
purpose of avoiding work, I assure you," he said. "They are
intended for those with special aptitude for the branches they
teach, and any one without it would find it easier to do double
hours at his trade than try to keep up with the classes. Of course
many honestly mistake their vocation, and, finding themselves
unequal to the requirements of the schools, drop out and return
to the industrial service; no discredit attaches to such persons,
for the public policy is to encourage all to develop suspected
talents which only actual tests can prove the reality of. The
professional and scientific schools of your day depended on the
patronage of their pupils for support, and the practice appears to
have been common of giving diplomas to unfit persons, who
afterwards found their way into the professions. Our schools are
national institutions, and to have passed their tests is a proof of
special abilities not to be questioned.
"This opportunity for a professional training," the doctor
continued, "remains open to every man till the age of thirty is
reached, after which students are not received, as there would
remain too brief a period before the age of discharge in which to
serve the nation in their professions. In your day young men had
to choose their professions very young, and therefore, in a large
proportion of instances, wholly mistook their vocations. It is
recognized nowadays that the natural aptitudes of some are later
than those of others in developing, and therefore, while the
choice of profession may be made as early as twenty-four, it
remains open for six years longer."
A question which had a dozen times before been on my lips
now found utterance, a question which touched upon what, in
my time, had been regarded the most vital difficulty in the way
of any final settlement of the industrial problem. "It is an
extraordinary thing," I said, "that you should not yet have said a
word about the method of adjusting wages. Since the nation is
the sole employer, the government must fix the rate of wages
and determine just how much everybody shall earn, from the
doctors to the diggers. All I can say is, that this plan would never
have worked with us, and I don't see how it can now unless
human nature has changed. In my day, nobody was satisfied with
his wages or salary. Even if he felt he received enough, he was
sure his neighbor had too much, which was as bad. If the
universal discontent on this subject, instead of being dissipated
in curses and strikes directed against innumerable employers,
could have been concentrated upon one, and that the government,
the strongest ever devised would not have seen two pay
Dr. Leete laughed heartily.
"Very true, very true," he said, "a general strike would most
probably have followed the first pay day, and a strike directed
against a government is a revolution."
"How, then, do you avoid a revolution every pay day?" if
demanded. "Has some prodigious philosopher devised a new
system of calculus satisfactory to all for determining the exact
and comparative value of all sorts of service, whether by brawn
or brain, by hand or voice, by ear or eye? Or has human nature
itself changed, so that no man looks upon his own things but
`every man on the things of his neighbor'? One or the other of
these events must be the explanation."
"Neither one nor the other, however, is," was my host's
laughing response. "And now, Mr. West," he continued, "you
must remember that you are my patient as well as my guest, and
permit me to prescribe sleep for you before we have any more
conversation. It is after three o'clock."
"The prescription is, no doubt, a wise one," I said; "I only
hope it can be filled."
"I will see to that," the doctor replied, and he did, for he gave
me a wineglass of something or other which sent me to sleep as
soon as my head touched the pillow.
When I awoke I felt greatly refreshed, and lay a considerable
time in a dozing state, enjoying the sensation of bodily comfort.
The experiences of the day previous, my waking to find myself in
the year 2000, the sight of the new Boston, my host and his
family, and the wonderful things I had heard, were a blank in
my memory. I thought I was in my bed-chamber at home, and
the half-dreaming, half-waking fancies which passed before my
mind related to the incidents and experiences of my former life.
Dreamily I reviewed the incidents of Decoration Day, my trip in
company with Edith and her parents to Mount Auburn, and my
dining with them on our return to the city. I recalled how
extremely well Edith had looked, and from that fell to thinking
of our marriage; but scarcely had my imagination begun to
develop this delightful theme than my waking dream was cut
short by the recollection of the letter I had received the night
before from the builder announcing that the new strikes might
postpone indefinitely the completion of the new house. The
chagrin which this recollection brought with it effectually roused
me. I remembered that I had an appointment with the builder
at eleven o'clock, to discuss the strike, and opening my eyes,
looked up at the clock at the foot of my bed to see what time it
was. But no clock met my glance, and what was more, I instantly
perceived that I was not in my room. Starting up on my couch, I
stared wildly round the strange apartment.
I think it must have been many seconds that I sat up thus in
bed staring about, without being able to regain the clew to my
personal identity. I was no more able to distinguish myself from
pure being during those moments than we may suppose a soul in
the rough to be before it has received the ear-marks, the
individualizing touches which make it a person. Strange that the
sense of this inability should be such anguish! but so we are
constituted. There are no words for the mental torture I endured
during this helpless, eyeless groping for myself in a boundless
void. No other experience of the mind gives probably anything
like the sense of absolute intellectual arrest from the loss of a
mental fulcrum, a starting point of thought, which comes during
such a momentary obscuration of the sense of one's identity. I
trust I may never know what it is again.
I do not know how long this condition had lasted--it seemed
an interminable time--when, like a flash, the recollection of
everything came back to me. I remembered who and where I
was, and how I had come here, and that these scenes as of the
life of yesterday which had been passing before my mind
concerned a generation long, long ago mouldered to dust.
Leaping from bed, I stood in the middle of the room clasping
my temples with all my might between my hands to keep them
from bursting. Then I fell prone on the couch, and, burying my
face in the pillow, lay without motion. The reaction which was
inevitable, from the mental elation, the fever of the intellect
that had been the first effect of my tremendous experience, had
arrived. The emotional crisis which had awaited the full realization
of my actual position, and all that it implied, was upon me,
and with set teeth and laboring chest, gripping the bedstead
with frenzied strength, I lay there and fought for my sanity. In
my mind, all had broken loose, habits of feeling, associations of
thought, ideas of persons and things, all had dissolved and lost
coherence and were seething together in apparently irretrievable
chaos. There were no rallying points, nothing was left stable.
There only remained the will, and was any human will strong
enough to say to such a weltering sea, "Peace, be still"? I dared
not think. Every effort to reason upon what had befallen me,
and realize what it implied, set up an intolerable swimming of
the brain. The idea that I was two persons, that my identity was
double, began to fascinate me with its simple solution of my
I knew that I was on the verge of losing my mental balance. If
I lay there thinking, I was doomed. Diversion of some sort I
must have, at least the diversion of physical exertion. I sprang
up, and, hastily dressing, opened the door of my room and went
down-stairs. The hour was very early, it being not yet fairly light,
and I found no one in the lower part of the house. There was a
hat in the hall, and, opening the front door, which was fastened
with a slightness indicating that burglary was not among the
perils of the modern Boston, I found myself on the street. For
two hours I walked or ran through the streets of the city, visiting
most quarters of the peninsular part of the town. None but an
antiquarian who knows something of the contrast which the
Boston of today offers to the Boston of the nineteenth century
can begin to appreciate what a series of bewildering surprises I
underwent during that time. Viewed from the house-top the day
before, the city had indeed appeared strange to me, but that was
only in its general aspect. How complete the change had been I
first realized now that I walked the streets. The few old
landmarks which still remained only intensified this effect, for
without them I might have imagined myself in a foreign town.
A man may leave his native city in childhood, and return fifty
years later, perhaps, to find it transformed in many features. He
is astonished, but he is not bewildered. He is aware of a great
lapse of time, and of changes likewise occurring in himself
meanwhile. He but dimly recalls the city as he knew it when a
child. But remember that there was no sense of any lapse of time
with me. So far as my consciousness was concerned, it was but
yesterday, but a few hours, since I had walked these streets in
which scarcely a feature had escaped a complete metamorphosis.
The mental image of the old city was so fresh and strong that it
did not yield to the impression of the actual city, but contended
with it, so that it was first one and then the other which seemed
the more unreal. There was nothing I saw which was not blurred
in this way, like the faces of a composite photograph.
Finally, I stood again at the door of the house from which I
had come out. My feet must have instinctively brought me back
to the site of my old home, for I had no clear idea of returning
thither. It was no more homelike to me than any other spot in
this city of a strange generation, nor were its inmates less utterly
and necessarily strangers than all the other men and women now
on the earth. Had the door of the house been locked, I should
have been reminded by its resistance that I had no object in
entering, and turned away, but it yielded to my hand, and
advancing with uncertain steps through the hall, I entered one
of the apartments opening from it. Throwing myself into a
chair, I covered my burning eyeballs with my hands to shut out
the horror of strangeness. My mental confusion was so intense as
to produce actual nausea. The anguish of those moments, during
which my brain seemed melting, or the abjectness of my sense of
helplessness, how can I describe? In my despair I groaned aloud.
I began to feel that unless some help should come I was about to
lose my mind. And just then it did come. I heard the rustle of
drapery, and looked up. Edith Leete was standing before me.
Her beautiful face was full of the most poignant sympathy.
"Oh, what is the matter, Mr. West?" she said. "I was here
when you came in. I saw how dreadfully distressed you looked,
and when I heard you groan, I could not keep silent. What has
happened to you? Where have you been? Can't I do something
Perhaps she involuntarily held out her hands in a gesture of
compassion as she spoke. At any rate I had caught them in my
own and was clinging to them with an impulse as instinctive as
that which prompts the drowning man to seize upon and cling
to the rope which is thrown him as he sinks for the last time. As
I looked up into her compassionate face and her eyes moist with
pity, my brain ceased to whirl. The tender human sympathy
which thrilled in the soft pressure of her fingers had brought me
the support I needed. Its effect to calm and soothe was like that
of some wonder-working elixir.
"God bless you," I said, after a few moments. "He must have
sent you to me just now. I think I was in danger of going crazy
if you had not come." At this the tears came into her eyes.
"Oh, Mr. West!" she cried. "How heartless you must have
thought us! How could we leave you to yourself so long! But it is
over now, is it not? You are better, surely."
"Yes," I said, "thanks to you. If you will not go away quite
yet, I shall be myself soon."
"Indeed I will not go away," she said, with a little quiver of
her face, more expressive of her sympathy than a volume of
words. "You must not think us so heartless as we seemed in
leaving you so by yourself. I scarcely slept last night, for thinking
how strange your waking would be this morning; but father said
you would sleep till late. He said that it would be better not to
show too much sympathy with you at first, but to try to divert
your thoughts and make you feel that you were among friends."
"You have indeed made me feel that," I answered. "But you
see it is a good deal of a jolt to drop a hundred years, and
although I did not seem to feel it so much last night, I have had
very odd sensations this morning." While I held her hands and
kept my eyes on her face, I could already even jest a little at my
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